At first glance, recruiting top-notch baseball talent to a small college in Greensburg could be more difficult than hitting a Stephen Strasburg fastball.
Seton Hill is a Catholic liberal arts university with an enrollment of 2,500 students -- just a few hundred more than Butler Area High School -- and was an all-women's school until 2002.
Baseball coach Marc Marizzaldi doesn't quite see it that way.
"We haven't had that problem at all," said Marizzaldi, in his ninth season at Seton Hill. "A lot of the very good WPIAL players we get are from the Butlers, North Alleghenys, Baldwins, the bigger Quad-A schools. When you find kids who baseball is a big part of their decision as far as picking a college, I think we stand out.
"They look at the opportunity that we have here. Yes, we're a small school but they're getting a great education and also an opportunity to come and play for one of the top baseball programs in the country. I think it's a win-win situation for the WPIAL guys."
And the Griffins have been doing nothing more than win.
With a roster heavy with WPIAL talent, Seton Hill has captured three consecutive West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference titles and is well on its way to winning a fourth. The Griffins are 16-3 in the conference, 25-8 overall, and are ranked No. 1 in the Atlantic Region standings. Nationally, Seton Hill is ranked No. 25 in the latest American Baseball Coaches Association/Collegiate Baseball Newspaper poll for NCAA Division II teams.
"When we recruit guys, they kind of know what they are stepping into, the expectation to compete in the top 20 in the country every year," said Marizzaldi, himself a WPIAL product from Baldwin. "I think they kind of prepare themselves to be in that position and to compete at that high level where winning is kind of expected. It's kind of a culture here where guys are used to it, which is a good thing."
Winning was expected last season, but this season there was some doubt.
With a lineup laden with seniors, the Griffins posted a school-record 46 victories last season and were the top seed in the Atlantic Region in their third consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament, climbing as high as No. 8 in the national poll. This year, however, there are a lot of new faces for Marizzaldi to work with.
"We graduated 11 seniors last year so coming into this year we knew we were going to have quite a different team. We have 13 freshmen on the team this year. We lost a ton on the mound, almost 200 innings to graduation last year. Not that it's a rebuilding year for us because we do bring back some pretty good position guys but we knew we had to take a couple steps backward, kind of refocus on the fundamentals this year."
Some of those pretty good position guys returning are third baseman Nick Sell (North Allegheny), second baseman Pat McCarthy (Baldwin) and shortstop Brendan Costantino (Geibel).
Sell, a sophomore, was named WVIAC player of the week Monday when he batted .563 (9 for 16) in five games, with 2 doubles, 3 home runs, 9 runs scored and 13 RBIs. For the season, he is batting .451 (46 for 102) with 33 RBIs, a slugging percentage of .755 and on-base percentage of .544. His batting average ranks second among conference leaders, while he is first in slugging percentage and on-base percentage.
"It doesn't matter who he's facing or what they're throwing, he's just so locked in right now," Marizzaldi said. "He's a tough guy to get the baseball by. I think I may have seen him swing and miss about three times in the past month. He's just one of those guys you love having in the three hole because he's so tough."
McCarthy, a junior, has also been a tough out for the Griffins, batting .384 (43 for 112) with 12 doubles and 27 RBIs while going 16 for 18 on stolen base attempts.
"Pat's been a pretty pleasant surprise for us. He started last year as a sophomore. He was a pretty good player and played decent defense. This year he's just taken his game to a whole new level. He's asserted himself as one of the top infielders in our region this year. He's a tireless worker. Everything that he has enjoyed success-wise this year is because of his work ethic."
Rounding out the starting position players for Marizzaldi is senior catcher Mike Cima (Penn-Trafford, .345 batting average), senior first baseman Brad Comport (North Allegheny, .277), junior left fielder Brandon Jossey (.286), senior center fielder Jackson Boyd (North Allegheny, .327) and sophomore right fielder Cody Herald (Butler, .319). Costantino, a junior, is batting .336 and has stolen 24 of 28 bases.
As a team, the Griffins are batting .337 with 30 home runs, 67 doubles and 92 of 109 stolen bases.
Leading the Seton Hill pitching staff has been junior left-hander Alex Haines (Hempfield Area). A WVIAC pitcher of the week selection April 2, Haines is 4-1 with a 1.96 ERA. In 411/3 innings, he has 49 strikeouts and 15 walks. One of the top pitchers last season at 9-0, junior right-hander Brad Schnelle (Moon Area) has struggled this season and is 1-3 with a 4.21 ERA.
"We kind of have two aces. Brad Schnelle was 9-0 as a sophomore for us last year so he would typically be our No. 1 starter, but he's been battling a lot of back injuries this year and he's not throwing the ball very well.
"We have another junior, Alex Haines, he's probably our No. 1. He's a hard-throwing guy, probably running it up to 93-94 [mph] already this year. Unfortunately, I think it's going to be his last year here at Seton Hill because we'll probably lose him to the [Major League Baseball] draft. He's been a pretty dominant power arm for us."
The Griffins have been dominant as a team, and not just this season. Despite being that small university in Greensburg, Seton Hill has become synonymous with outstanding Division II baseball.
Rick Davis: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-3789.