South/East Xtra: Franklin Regional grads lead W&J's hit parade

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After Saturday's doubleheader sweep of Geneva, the Washington & Jefferson College baseball team clinched its sixth Presidents' Athletic Conference regular-season title in a row and will play host to the PAC tournament for the eighth time in the past 10 seasons.

It's no surprise that leading the way for the Presidents is a pair of Franklin Regional graduates, senior center fielder Josh Staniscia and freshman left fielder Nick Vento ... especially to Staniscia.

"I don't think there's any secret, our program does a good job of developing guys at Franklin Regional and at W&J," Staniscia said. "The coaches who we had at Franklin and here at W&J get us prepared to play at the highest level."

Staniscia has been playing at "the highest level" for four years and is ready to pass the torch to his fellow Panther alumnus.

"It's nice to have another Franklin Regional guy in the outfield," he said. "Me and Nick have been friends for a couple years now. When I was a senior in high school, he was starting for us at [designated hitter] in some of the games at the varsity level.

"I got to know him well back then and kept in touch with him since then. It's nice he ended up coming to W&J and it's great having him in the outfield. He's a great player."

Perhaps there's no greater player at W&J than Staniscia.

A 6-foot-3, 170-pounder from Export who throws and bats left-handed, Staniscia broke the Presidents' all-time career hits mark on April 19 when he had three hits against Thomas More to bring his total to 224, surpassing the 221 recorded by Jim Pasquine in 2010.

He now has 238 hits heading into today's PAC matchup against Waynesburg and is batting a team-high .415 (54 for 130). He also ranks first all time at W&J in triples (18), second in at-bats (621, 10 from breaking school record), doubles (41) and total bases (330, two from breaking school record), third in runs (143) and fourth in RBIs (133).

A three-time first-team All-PAC selection, Staniscia was a preseason first-team All-American coming into this season. In the field, Staniscia has committed only one error in 333 career chances, none since his freshman season, for a fielding percentage of .997.

"Josh is a great player," said W&J coach Jeff Mountain, in his 12th season with the Presidents. "He has speed, power, has a lot of experience. Those guys who have all that experience are invaluable. They're like coaches on the field, they understand what we're thinking. He's been a great player, certainly as good as we've ever had as a hitter."

For the season, Staniscia has a team-high 54 hits batting out of the No. 3 spot in the lineup, leads the team with 10 doubles, 5 triples, 33 RBIs, 71 total bases and is 12 for 12 in stolen bases.

"I think I'm a pretty aggressive hitter and I think that's really helped me a lot through the years," said Staniscia, the PAC athlete of the week for the week of April 21. "The first fastball I see I'm usually swinging at it. I'm not trying to walk or take pitches. I'm usually up there hacking away and being aggressive.

"At the same time, I'm looking for a pitch that I can drive into the gap or hit a hard line drive. As the years have gone by, teams have pitched me a little different. They throw me a lot of offspeed stuff."

Despite the pressure of getting hits as the record drew near, Staniscia said he really gave it very little thought.

"Not really, I just stayed focused on winning games and helping the team win games. To do that, hitting the ball and driving in runs is what I do best. It just kind of comes along with helping the team win games. I didn't really think about it too much. I just focused on game to game and trying to hit the ball hard every time up."

One person already hitting the ball hard is Vento, a Murrysville resident. Vento was named the PAC hitter of the week Monday when he batted .458 (11 for 24) in six games last week.

Only a freshman, Vento, a 5-10, 190-pound right-hander who played football last year at Franklin Regional, is second on the team in batting average at .392 (40 for 102) with 6 doubles, 2 triples and 21 RBIs from the sixth or seventh spots in the order. What has Mountain excited are his two home runs with plenty of potential for more as Vento matures.

"Nick is a real hard-nosed guy," Mountain said. "He's a football player playing baseball, that's his mindset. He's a great competitor, a real tough kid. He works hard and is a willing learner.

"He's definitely more raw than Josh when Josh came in. Nick is a raw player, but he's well-schooled. He's taking hitting lessons from a guy and the guy has done a great job with him. It fits what Nick's swing is. They've kind of laid the foundation for that. He taught him how to hit. He's a tough kid."

"Nick is very aggressive, does a good job of staying inside the baseball and driving it the other way. He handles the outside ball well, squares the ball up well. He just hits them hard. He's a strong guy, stronger than most guys are at our level but he barrels balls up and they just jump off his bat."

The Presidents (23-12, 18-2 PAC), who won the conference tournament last year and finished third in the NCAA Division III Mideast Regional, wrap up the regular season against Saint Vincent with a doubleheader Saturday at Ross Memorial Park in Washington, Pa., before a nine-inning contest Sunday in Latrobe.

The PAC tournament begins May 8.

"I'm thankful I've been able to stay healthy these four years," Staniscia said. "I think I've played every game we've had the past four years.

"We've done well, which is great, but I think this year we can even take it a step further and win the NCAA regional. I think we have the talent to do that."

Rick Davis: or 412-263-3789.

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