East Xtra: Seton Hill a contender in new conference

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In many scenarios, change can be welcoming.

In the case of the Seton Hill University baseball team, it is going to be challenging. The Griffins have begun their first season in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference and have jumped right to the top of the conference standings.

"Yeah it is more challenging," Griffins coach Marc Marizzaldi said. "[The PSAC] is deeper and more talented. The landscape is more difficult than the past couple of years. My opinion is that it is one of the top [NCAA Division II] conferences in the country."

The Griffins previously competed in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference where they became a fixture at advancing to the Atlantic Regional.

Although they changed conferences, the Griffins will be competing in the same region, giving them plenty of experience against PSAC foes heading into the conference season.

"They have all been in our region before and we competed against them in the regional," Marizzaldi said. "We are aware of the competition and competed well against them in the past.

"What we have done in the past has no bearing on this year. It doesn't matter where we are coming from. We have a lot to prove this year. I think we were picked first, which doesn't mean anything except for it put a bull's-eye on our back."

The Griffins (14-9, 3-1) began the season with their yearly trip south to the Carolinas, followed by a trip to Florida. In the early part of the season, the Griffins have struggled with consistency whether it is on the field or with Marizzaldi finding the right lineup.

"Our record is a reflection of not who we played but how we played," Marizzaldi said. "We have been up and down and pretty inconsistent."

"For the most part, we are still platooning and moving guys around. It might be a little deep in the season to do that. I don't think we jelled or meshed yet as an offensive unit. We need to find the right nine guys to work together and we are still trying to work through that."

The Griffins may have found their rhythm once they headed north, winning five of their past six games, including taking three of four games in their PSAC opening series against Pitt-Johnstown. Pitt-Johnstown also is new to the conference from the WVIAC, making the first conference series of the year feel like old times for the Griffins.

"Pitt-Johnstown is also new to the conference," Marizzaldi said. "It felt the same thing as year's past. It is fun to start off the PSAC schedule with a rivalry."

The Griffins got out to a hot start on offense with six players maintaining a .300-or-better average. Leading the way is University of Cincinnati transfer and North Hills graduate Taylor Schmidt. Schmidt leads the team with a .405 average, 30 hits and is second on the team with 12 RBIs and 15 stolen bases.

"He has been a fantastic pickup," Marizzaldi said. "He fits our system well. He can run.

"We had some injuries to some of our top guys. We thought he would add some great depth to our lineup.

"Pat McCarthy stole 35 bases last year but is out with an injury. When you lose a big base running threat, it is nice to have someone new come in and pick up the slack."

Helping Schmidt pick up the slack is leadoff man Brendan Costantino. Costantino, a Geibel Catholic graduate from Monongahela, currently leads the team with 19 stolen bases and is sixth on the team with a .305 average.

"His numbers are really deceiving," Marizzaldi said. "He has been swinging the bat most consistently. His outs have been quality outs. He is really squaring the ball up consistently. He is very dependable. He is our leadoff guy."

Anthony Fanelli, a Hempfield Area graduate, is third on the team with a .349 average. Another Hempfield graduate, Alex Haines, has had an up-and-down season so far on the mound.

Haines is 3-2 with a 4.94 ERA and has one complete game.

"Alex Haines hasn't been as dominant but he has given us a chance to win all of our starts," Marizzaldi said. "He is going to get better as the season progresses."

As a whole, the Griffins pitching staff has not performed up to expectations, but Marizzaldi is hoping they can turn it around.

"It has been underachieving," he said. "There have been pleasant surprises and others that haven't made their potential. We had to jumble some things around on the pitching side but we have a lot of pitchers. We know where we need to be and expect them to get better as they year goes on."

In the past, the Griffins are accustomed to winning and advancing into the postseason. With conference season kicking into full swing, the Griffins will rely on their experience and talent to challenge for a conference title.

"There aren't a whole lot of teams that are beating us right now," Marizzaldi said. "We have been making a lot of mistakes. I am confident that we will be able to fix it. We have played on the big stage. We know where we need to get to."

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