Loren Torres knew it was going to be either a good season or a special season.
The head coach of the Point Park baseball team didn't need other options.
"We had enough talent to have a good season just by showing up, and they made it a point to make it a special season," Torres said.
And it was special. The Pioneers collected a program-record 53 wins, advanced to the NAIA World Series for the first time since 1998 and finished fifth at the World Series. They were ranked No. 6 in the NAIA Baseball Coaches' Postseason Top 25 Poll. The season ended in an 8-6 loss to Rodgers State (Okla.) -- the eventual runner-up -- May 29 in Lewiston, Idaho.
Torres took over at Point Park in 2010 with a goal to rejuvenate Pioneers baseball. In his first season, the Pioneers were 13-26, followed by 38-13 last season and 53-11 this season.
At the World Series, Point Park defeated College of Idaho and South Carolina-Beaufort and lost to Lee (Tenn.) and Rodgers State.
The final loss stung, but the experience is something the upstart Pioneers won't soon forget.
"It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing," senior third baseman Lee Bodnar said. "They treated us like we were professionals. All the people wanted your autograph, it was honestly the neatest experience I've ever been a part of."
"It almost felt like we were dropped in a new country and all become professional players," Torres added.
The fanfare that surrounded the event was a shock to the players -- most of whom were paying their first visit to Idaho -- but they left itching for a return.
Point Park hasn't reached the World Series in consecutive seasons since 1988-89.
Torres gives the Pioneers a goal at the beginning of each season. Last year it was to reach the postseason. This year it was to reach the World Series.
For the first time, Torres' goal won't shift. He just wants to get back to Lewiston.
"Our goal will remain to get to the World Series and see how far we can play into it," Torres said. "We want to win it.
"[Reaching the World Series] opens doors for a lot of things, so we're happy about that. But at the end of the day you've got to close the book and do it all over again."
Closing the book on the 2012 season isn't an easy thing to do. The pages are littered with records and eye-popping numbers.
On the mound, senior right-hander Mike Tullio set the program saves record with 15. The four starting pitchers -- Sean Clark, Derek Peluso, Nathan Spohn and Manny Perdomo -- combined for a 33-2 record.
"The pitchers were lights out," Bodnar said.
"They gave us an opportunity to win every game. With them on the mound, I don't know how we lost 11 games, to be honest."
The pitchers kept Point Park in every game, and the hitters finished most of those games.
Despite returning just three starters from the 2011 lineup, the Pioneers posted a collective .318 team batting average. Sophomore catcher Ossie Alfonzo was named to the 16-man all-tournament team after hitting .529 with eight RBIs in four games at the World Series.
Torres and the Pioneers will lose five seniors -- all starters -- next season, but they've already burned up the recruiting trail to fill the voids. WPIAL Class AAAA pitcher of the year Anthony Garofalo from Plum High School will join the team next year.
No matter who stands in front of him next season, Torres will ask just one thing: Do you want to be a good team, or do you want to be a special team?
"When he said it, it hit home," Bodnar said. "When a coach tells you that you guys have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go to Lewiston, Idaho, to play with nine of the best teams in the nation, it kind of motivates you to a different level."
First Published June 6, 2012 12:00 AM