West Xtra: Carlynton grad gives Point Park a lift

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Shane Conley's college baseball career may have gotten off to a slow start, but it's definitely in the fast lane now.

A graduate of Carlynton High School, Conley played his freshman season at Seton Hill University in Greensburg but saw very little action. The Griffins, a perennial power in NCAA Division II baseball, finished the season 42-17 last year, one win shy of a trip to the NCAA Division II World Series after losing to Shippensburg in the Atlantic Region championship game.

Conley played in 11 games last season at Seton Hill, but got only three at-bats with no hits and five runs scored. He was, however, 3 for 3 in stolen bases, a precursor of things to come.

"I took it day by day," said Conley, who grew up in Carnegie but moved to Cecil Township with his family after graduation. "I saw I had the ability. I definitely saw I had the tools to get into the starting lineup but at Seton Hill they had an experienced outfield. The opportunity there was slim to none."

After being recruited by Point Park coach Loren Torres while he was in high school, Conley decided to see if the Pioneers were still interested. Upon deciding to transfer, Conley made the call to Torres in an effort to get his collegiate career rolling.

"The reason I transferred is I went to Seton Hill feeling pretty confident about my playing ability," Conley said. "I thought I could get some playing time as a freshman. Unfortunately, that didn't work out. My ultimate goal in college was to go somewhere, get an education and play baseball. I wanted to play.

"I contacted coach Torres at the end of the season and asked him if he'd give me another shot and he said 'of course.' I'm actually very happy with Point Park and I think I made the right decision because I'm on the field."

Once again, however, Conley's season got off to a slow start.

A 5-foot-10, 175-pound center fielder, Conley started the first game of the season, he said, only because of an injury to a teammate, but then was relegated to the bench. He got a second chance to start on the Pioneers' trip to Florida and had a string of three starts in four games in the beginning of March, but then sat out a span of 11 games.

In the first game of a doubleheader March 22 against Brescia, Conley started and went 2 for 3. After that doubleheader, and with Conley firmly planted as a starter in center field, the Pioneers went on a 19-2 tear.

"We made a change looking for more defense," Torres said of deciding on Conley as his starter. "We had a great pitching staff but we weren't playing good defense behind our great pitching. We said if we have to give away a little bit of offense, we're going to do that but we're going to put our best defense out there.

"It actually worked out on both ends. He's swung the bat real well and he's played great defense. The guys we've shifted around have started hitting, too, so it's worked out on both ends."

Not only has Conley utilized his speed to cover ground in the outfield, but he has been a terror on the base paths. He has yet to be thrown out stealing a base, going an impressive 17 for 17.

"He's a very, very smart baserunner," Torres said. "That's something you can't teach. He has a lot of speed. Two of his stolen bases have been on pitchouts and he still got the stolen bases. He runs really well. One of the things that attracted us to him when we recruited him was his speed."

"Pitchers fall into patterns," Conley said. "They come set, they'll go one one-thousand and then pitch ... every time, and they don't even realize it. If the baserunner picks up on that kind of stuff, that's what they base the jump off of. You don't steal off the catcher. If you look at the small things off the pitcher, it definitely gives you an advantage."

Conley has used his speed to his advantage at the plate. He is batting .421 with 32 hits in 76 at-bats. A left-handed batter, Conley has scored 29 runs with 18 RBIs, all from the No. 9 spot in the batting order.

"He's swinging the bat really, really well," Torres said. "I see him being a one or two guy [in the batting order] in the future. He's still a sophomore and he's still young. We want to keep him away from the pressure of having to hit at the top of the order and having to lead the offense.

"Our first four hitters are seniors. I think with him being a sophomore, it's a good place for him to start. He can put some pressure on the defense. He's like a second leadoff guy."

The Pioneers (35-12, 16-4 KIAC), ranked No. 23 in the NAIA Baseball Coaches' poll, wrapped up the regular season Friday with a doubleheader sweep of Berea (Ky.) to win the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference regular-season title for the second year in a row.

Point Park, whose 16 league wins are the most in team history, opens the KIAC tournament as the No. 1 seed and will take on the winner of Wednesday's No. 4 Berea vs. No. 5 Asbury matchup at 11 a.m. today in Kingsport, Tenn. The Pioneers will be looking for their second KIAC tournament championship in a row and third consecutive trip to the NAIA national tournament.

Conley, who has missed the past four games due to injury, is hoping to help the Pioneers to another KIAC tournament championship and a berth in the NAIA national tournament.

"I'm very proud of myself but I like to think there is no room for complacency," he said. "I don't like to get too high, I don't like to get too low. I like to stay on an even path. That's why I believe I'm so successful right now because I don't look at stats the way some people would.

"I know what I'm doing, but I don't like to get too involved with it. As long as we're winning, then I'm happy. That's my main concern."

Rick Davis: rdavis@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3789.

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