Monday, April 14, 2014

Mid-April Grab Bag

Just a grab bag of stuff to cap off the week:

- Really wish I could get to more baseball games in the conference.  I've only been able to see a handful of games, due to my personal schedule and the non-cooperative weather.  With the season approaching the midway point, one program recently rattled off eight straight wins to surge near the top of the conference standings.  

Bethany has been getting it done with pitching and defense this year.  The Bison have allowed three runs or less in eight of their seventeen games, including three shutouts.  During their current win streak, they swept three games from Grove City and Saint Vincent, along with a pair of non-conference wins over Muskingum.  While they haven't faced the stiffest of competition yet in PAC play, the Bison do have a road victory over conference frontrunner W&J.  

Despite being picked sixth in the preseason conference poll, Bethany is currently in third place in the PAC.  The Bison dropped a pair of doubleheaders to Geneva and Case Western over the weekend.

- Speaking of Case Western, W&J faced off against the Spartans on Saturday, with an interesting twist in the opening game of their twin bill.  The contest went to extra innings tied, 2-2.  In the bottom of the 10th, Case Western appeared to win on a walk-off solo home run.  However, the batter failed to touch home plate and was ruled out on a subsequent appeal, nullifying his potential winning tally.

The ensuing conversation between coach and umpire was probably interesting to say the least, and possibly a little animated.  Then, once the explanation was given, I'm sure the discussion between coach and player was even more animated.  Having played, coached, umpired, and watched countless games, I have seen runners miss bases before, usually forgetting to re-touch trying to tag up.  However, a missed base on a walk-off home run is rare, especially by the player who hit it.  Luckily for Case Western, they were able to eventually win the game an inning later, turning an embarrassing mental error into a comical anecdote.

- Last week was NCAA Division III week.  In addition to the celebration and stories across the DIII landscape, the PAC celebrated the week with several stories from individuals connected to the conference.  Some of them are written by people that we know well through our basketball coverage, while other authors are more unfamiliar.  

They can be all found here, on the website.

One of the best aspects of covering college athletics is the variety of backgrounds from the student-athletes and coaches.  Some are intent on a specific Division III experience from the outset of their college career.  Others arrive from a variety of different schools, from various levels of college athletics.  Each person has a different story, but the underlying bond between them is their tie to Division III.  

They also take a huge amount of pride in representing their respective schools.  Passion displayed by student-athletes, coaches, and fans, is what makes amateur sports and the overall college experience great.  Athletics can galvanize a student body and create a bond within the community.  Hopefully we continue to see these characteristics continue to grow throughout the conference and Division III landscape.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Men's Starting Five(s)

An idea came about during the women's starting five post, and - like some ideas - it comes to fruition a little late.  Let's create the "starting five" for men's basketball, but instead of just one team, this is more or less a drafting two teams, designed to match up against each other.  Again, this is different than an all-conference team.  Players are chosen while accounting for position, skill set, and chemistry with their teammates. 

I asked for help from someone within the conference who had seen each team quite a bit (they will remain anonymous) to help draft one side.  These are just opinions and responses to who's been picked, who remains on the table, while abiding to the one player per school rule.  This isn't a ranking of players in the conference, and you'll probably see why after the first couple of picks.  Wanted to wait until the awards were handed out before diving into this gimmick.  Let's see how this goes.  

To differentiate the two squads, we will refer to them as the NORTH and SOUTH, but they have nothing to do with actual directions or locations of the players being picked.  I won't tell you which side I drafted.  

Again, here's the rules:
- Draft five players, with the mindset of building a team, guards and forwards.
- No more than one player per school can be picked by a team.
- In order to keep it equal, the team that picks second will receive two straight picks (#2 and #3 overall), before picks alternate the rest of the draft.  

NORTH won the coin flip, and they chose to pick first.

NORTH Selection
Dillon Stith, 6’5, F, Saint Vincent
Stith was a menace for opposing teams all season.  At 6’5, he was nearly unstoppable in the paint, averaging a double-double for the season (19.5 PPG/10.2 RPG), and always, always, a threat to make a poster out of someone.  He also has the range to step outside and knock down a triple, so he really can play the 3, 4, or 5, if necessary.  On defense, he has quickness to follow perimeter players around, but can also stand inside and be a shotblocking force.  Picking the multi-talented Stith first makes so much sense, but it also doesn’t limit choices down the road if other players are available.  PAC Player of the Year.  NABC Division III Third Team All-American.  Good luck defending him, or scoring against him.  Your move.

One quick thought before I pick.  I think you already made a mistake.  Not in picking Stith, but in going first.  Now, I have my choice of two straight picks, plus, since you already picked a Saint Vincent player, I can hold off on choosing a Bearcat until the end.  It already gives me a good luck at what my squad will look like, even before I make a selection.  Now, I will make my selections.

SOUTH Selection
Nate Bellhy, 6’6, F, W&J
Like Stith, Bellhy is versatile, but in different ways.  From what I saw, he can be a jump shooter, slasher, or pick and roll (or pick and pop) candidate, instead of straight posting up against someone.  Regardless, with Stith on one team, Bellhy needs to be opposite him.  Otherwise, those matchup problems will be a headache to go against.  Bellhy could be a top scoring option, or could draw a defender away from the paint.  Either way, two things are certain.  He will command attention, and will also need a couple of aggressive guards to play with.

SOUTH Selection 
Delonte’ Joyce, 6’0, G, Bethany
Speed thrills.  That’s what Joyce brings.  His quickness helped him finish second in steals and fifth in scoring in the PAC.  Despite all the talent that turned over on the Bethany roster from the previous season, the Bison remained a force in the conference, and looked primed for a possible third tournament title in four years, until an incredible upset win by Geneva.  Joyce made the leap from part-time player into first team all-conference award winner.  Unlike some guards, whose scoring comes from a barrage of threes, he would have some of the quietest big games ever.  A steal and fast break here, a jumper there, you look up, and he has 20 points.  That is a huge nod to his consistency.  He beats you soundly, without you realizing it until after it’s over. 

Similar to how my pick of Stith gives you an uncontested pick of the rest of the Saint Vincent team, I get a free pick from W&J and/or Bethany that can now fall until the end of the selections, without fear of you nabbing them.  There are lots of ways to go with this next selection.  I could follow your lead with a guard after a forward.  Or I could try and nab another top defensive forward to go along with Stith, to really pack it in against any slashing guards you acquire down the road.

NORTH Selection
Eric Mallinger, 6’6, F, Thiel
Maybe he’s not thought of as a dominant scorer compared to some players in this draft, but he did average double figures this season.  The main focus of this pick is Mallinger’s shot blocking.  He averaged 3.2 BPG this year, and he put up five games with at least five rejections.  And those just are the ones he got, not counting the many more opponents altered or didn’t attempt because of his presence.  Frankly, he’s a disruption.  On this team, I can definitely see times where he is defending the basketball, leans one way, and Stith is there on the backside for the block.  The opposite could also work.  I still need some guards, but right now, you won’t want to battle on the blocks against this squad.

Dillon Stith
Eric Mallinger

SOUTH Selection
Jason Propst, 6’5, F, Waynesburg
W&J, Bethany, and now Waynesburg, all on the same squad, but we’ll find a way to make the chemistry work.  Propst isn’t afraid to mix it up inside, even against larger bodies.  His physicality got him into a little foul trouble against Saint Vincent in the PAC Tournament, but he was a big part of Waynesburg making a huge jump this year in basketball, as the Yellow Jackets hosted a tournament game for the first time in a while.  Along with Bellhy and Joyce, this team will be multi-faceted and incredibly difficult to stop, or push around.

Delonte’ Joyce
Nate Bellhy
Jason Propst

NORTH Selection
D’Carlo Hayes, 5’11, G, Thomas More
Time to break the Thomas More ice.  I feel like it was only a matter of time before one of us grabbed a Saint, and I need a guard badly.  Hayes won PAC Player of the Year in 2013, which gives me the last two award winners.  Of the true point guards in the conference, Hayes might be the best along the outside.  He’s also right at home at the free throw line, and has carried the Saints to wins several times from the charity stripe.  The feature that makes his selection most intriguing is that he is fast enough to match up with Joyce, and vice versa. 

Dillon Stith
Eric Mallinger
D’Carlo Hayes

SOUTH Selection
Drew Mumford, 6’2, G/F, Thomas More
The rest of my picks are pretty much mapped out.  Mumford gives me another guy that is not afraid to attack the basket or mix it up down low.  He really had a breakout year and seized the opportunity to advance his game.  Early in the year, he was Thomas More’s main option to score inside the arc, but later in the season, he was able to settle into a more accustomed role.  Either way, any time you can add someone who averaged over 17 points a game, you do it.  He’s another player that will add to this team’s versatility.

Delonte’ Joyce
Nate Bellhy
Jason Propst
Drew Mumford

NORTH: It looks like we’re favoring the quick slashers over the pure three-point shooters.  Hayes and Joyce can sink it from the outside, but you don’t really think of them as catch-and-shoot guys.  This league is full of guards that like to drive into crowds, and I’m about to pick up another here.

NORTH Selection
Anthony Thomas, 6’0 G, Westminster
I can’t let Thomas slide any more, even though I already have Hayes as a point guard.  Even though they bring different things to the table, they can be interchangeable.  One can run the point, while the other can moonlight as the shooting guard.  Having multiple players comfortable with running the offense is never a bad thing.  This team will run, run, and run some more.

SOUTH Selection
Isaac Turner, 6’2, G, Saint Vincent
Ironic that the leading scorer in the PAC would be my last selection in a draft like this, but because of the one player per school rule, and your early pick of Stith, I will consider it a victory for the “best value pick”.  Turner is exactly what you want in a scorer.  Deadly beyond the arc, but with lightning quickness to keep defenders honest, he is the true “hope to contain” player.  At 22 points per contest, he can light up the scoreboard in a hurry.  Plus, being lefty can sometimes throw off opponents.  He ties together the squad nicely, and the way things are shaping up, any game between our teams would be a track meet.

G - Delonte’ Joyce, Bethany
F - Nate Bellhy, W&J
F - Jason Propst, Waynesburg
G/F - Drew Mumford, Thomas More
G - Isaac Turner, Saint Vincent

I can go one of two ways here for the final pick, I can beef up the inside, with another large body, or I can pick up another outside scorer.  With Stith and Mallinger around the basket, and a couple of guards in Hayes and Thomas with the ability to take it to the hole, a three point shooter would help keep the defense honest, and frankly, will probably be open most of the time with all the other scoring options on the floor.

NORTH Selection
Brian Giesler, 6’3, F, Grove City
There’s no denying Giesler’s sharpshooting, as he was at or near 40% from beyond the arc for much of the season.  Maybe even more impressive was the number of threes he shot (and made) during the year.  He did trail off towards the end of the year, as Grove City struggled in the second half of conference play.  Still, the Wolverines fell by just one basket at Thomas More in the PAC Tournament.  Giesler’s four makes from downtown were a big reason why the Saints were on the ropes for a first-round loss that never materialized.

F - Dillon Stith, Saint Vincent
F - Eric Mallinger, Thiel
G - D’Carlo Hayes, Thomas More
G - Anthony Thomas, Westminster
F – Brian Giesler, Grove City

These final teams mirror themselves pretty well.  Each has speedy guards, and versatile forwards that can bounce into traffic or step outside, if necessary.  The rebounding edge may go to the Stith-Mallinger combination, but Bellhy and Propst are no slouches on the glass.  Joyce and Turner have also shown they’re unafraid to fight for a loose ball.  The South team may rely slightly more on jumpers, where the North squad will be in the paint and at the charity stripe.  Either way, this would be a pretty cool game to see.

Friday, April 4, 2014

A Look Inside PAC Softball - Part V

Saint Vincent senior Shannon Baczek helped us out tremendously during basketball season, running camera and coordinating our gameday production.  As a current student-athlete on the Bearcats' softball team, she has experience and knowledge of the league and the schools involved.  Entering her third season, she agreed to provide a little insight into PAC softball, as the Bearcats are focused on a return trip to the conference tournament after a year absence.  

Finally it comes time for the conference games.  Our first PAC contest was supposed to be against Grove City, but due to bad weather it was postponed to a later date, so we opened conference play against Thiel.  

For the past three seasons, Thiel and Saint Vincent have pretty much been on the same playing field.  Both of us are usually power-hitting teams with good pitching to back it up.  The Callahan sisters on Thiel are probably the fastest siblings out there.  I played with both of them during my travel ball days with Valley Extreme so we have played with and against each other for the past six years basically.  Both of them are quick enough to bunt at the last second.  They always keep the corners on our toes.  I also played against Allison House in 14U travel ball so I am pretty familiar with most of Thiel’s lineup.  I am not the only who knows a player on Thiel.  Ally Vrcek played high school ball with second baseman Ashley Dolan.  Playing against people you have played with for a majority of your career makes it fun, yet also challenging because they know all your strengths and weaknesses.  

Last year we split with the Tomcats, so coming into the games both teams were looking into trying to gain the upper hand.  The first game was a grind it out battle from the get go. Thiel jumped out to 1-0 lead after the first inning but we responded with two runs of our own in the 2nd and never looked back.  We added two more runs in the third to make it 4-1 heading into the 7th inning.  Thiel got one back and made it 4-2 but that’s as close as they got and we took the first game.  Sam Emert got her first conference win of her career pitching a gem, giving up two runs while scattering five hits and striking out six over her seven innings of work.  Marissa McAndrews and Bre Wallace were the RBI machines, each driving in two a piece to lead the offense.  The second game however, the Tomcats took that one.  Amanda Callahan just went off, going 5-5, while also pitching a shut out.  For us, we just couldn’t get anything going offensively and just didn’t play our usual game and Thiel jumped on that and never looked back.  We only managed three hits the second game compared to Thiel’s 17.  For both games, Amanda Callahan went a combined 6-8.  Only being a junior she is going to be a batter that gives opposing pitchers fits.  

There is one positive that you can take from games that are one-sided: It gives coaches chances to plug in people at different positions and see how they do, which our coach did.   All the replacements and subs performed well.  We are supposed to continue our conference schedule Saturday against Washington and Jefferson so hopefully this nice weather holds up.  Until next time dedicated readers.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Bo Knows Division III

With the Division I Final Four set, get ready for an entire week of scrutiny and stories from each of the schools involved: Florida, Wisconsin, Connecticut, and Kentucky.  Everyone involved has a different background, hardships, or convoluted path that led them to get to this point.  The four coaches in this year's Final Four are well-known by fans of college basketball, but one had an incredibly successful stint coaching in Division III prior to his jump to Division I.

Before being named head coach in Madison, Wisconsin's Bo Ryan had a 15-year tenure at UW-Platteville.  His first six years, the Pioneers were part of the NAIA, but once the school transitioned to Division III in 1990, they became the marquee basketball program of the decade, across all divisions.

Think about the top schools for college hoops in the 1990's.  Duke was the most decorated of the major college programs, with two national titles and three additional Final Four trips over the ten-year span.  Kentucky was close with a pair of championships in four trips to the Final Four during the same period. 

However, Bo Ryan's UW-Platteville team dominated more than any other program, winning four Division III national championships in the 1990's.  He also guided the squad to a fifth appearance in the Final Four.  For the decade, the Pioneers went 266-26, including two undefeated seasons, for a winning percentage of over .900.  

After he moved on to coach at Milwaukee and then later, Wisconsin,
UW-Platteville dedicated their home court to Ryan.

(Photos from the Wisconsin-Platteville athletics website)
One of the major characteristics of the Badgers since Ryan became head coach is their defense.  Wisconsin is typically ranked among the leaders in scoring defense and opponent shooting percentage.  As a result, some Wisconsin games will be in the 50's or even lower.  In December, Wisconsin played a 48-38 game against Virginia, the top-ranked scoring defense in Division I this year.  

Ryan's teams at UW-Platteville were also formidable at keeping opponents off the scoreboard.  In fact, his 1996-97 squad set the NCAA record (all divisions) for points allowed per game (47.5).  For a little comparison, this year's top defensive squad was MIT, allowing over 55 points per game.  

Michigan nearly joined Wisconsin in the Final Four, falling to Kentucky on Sunday.  The Wolverines' head coach, John Beilein, has made numerous stops throughout his coaching career.  Ironically, he has coached at the Division I, Division II, NAIA, and junior college levels, but never at the Division III level.  He nearly did at Nazareth College (then an NAIA school), which moved to Division III after Beilein's only season at the school.  Just shows there are countless paths to end up with nearly identical positions in the coaching realm.  There are other high profile coaches with Division III backgrounds coaching in major college basketball, and also in the NBA, but only one is in the final four this year.  

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Chatham University Campus Tour

Chatham University’s campus can sneak up on you. When you turn off of busy Fifth Avenue and head up the narrow roads you're not sure what you’re going to find.  Winding the pathways through the trees, especially when they're full with leaves, the buildings unfold around you tucked into the greenery. The first major building you’ll come across is the most historic, the Mellon House or Mellon Center. Former home of Andrew W. Mellon, yes that Mellon, it has become an integral part of the campus.


Chatham is really unique from all the other campuses in the conference because of how it's laid out. You have all of these beautiful campus buildings, a lot of which look like residential homes, that are closely surrounded by private residences. That’s because many of the houses, like the Mellon House, used to be family homes until they were donated to the college. Some of those homes are still used as residence halls, and rumor has it some of them are haunted by friendly ghosts of former residents.

There are so many unique details about the inside and out of the Mellon House that it prompted one of our halftime features this season. Take a look here.

Once you’re done admiring the beauty of the Mellon House, and don’t forget to wave to Mr. Mellon as you walk through, go around back through the gardens and walk up the hill. Make sure to turn around though because the back of the Mellon House may be more striking than the front. 

The majority of the classroom buildings at Chatham are at the top of the hill. It also provides some breathtaking views of Pittsburgh through the trees. The most prominent building, with its tower reaching high into the sky, is the Campbell Memorial Chapel. This bears a striking resemblance to the Roberts Chapel in Waynesburg. Guess whoever designed both campuses had excellent taste. 

Something else interesting about Chatham, some of their buildings are connected. Take a look at Braun, Falk and Coolidge Halls, which form one giant building. Next to them is the Science Complex, home of another Buhl Hall in the PAC (yet another similarity between Chatham and Waynesburg), which has an unexpected piece of art inside.

This stained glass window is unexpected walking into the more modern looking science and laboratory building, but its colors leapt off the wall in the bright sunlight on our visit.This work of art contains the names of writers and philosophers, and can you tell which is the only one to have their name on it twice? We’re not telling so look closely. Don't worry if it takes you a little longer than it should. We had to have our tour-guide give us the answer. 

Among all these residential homes and stately looking red brick buildings, the large looming structure of the Jennie King Mellon Library really stands out on top of the hill. It’s unique angles and large windows can provide more views of Pittsburgh and the surrounding areas if you look out the back windows from the top floor, so I’m told.

One more site at Chatham you have to see, and something no other school has is Jessica’s Labyrinth. Located across the street from the Mellon House it looks like a maze, but it’s not. In a maze there are many paths and some lead to a dead end. In a labyrinth there is only one path that leads to the middle. We didn’t have time to walk the entire labyrinth, but we definitely will try next time. Making it to the center is suppose to calm the mind and relax you, something we all need.

As you leave Chatham don’t be alarmed at the narrow streets, or even the unpaved stone ones depending on which way you leave. Two cars will fit past each other, even though it doesn’t seem like it. Chatham’s campus is very quiet and peaceful, a nice escape from the sometimes chaotic setting of Pittsburgh and Fifth Avenue that awaits you when you leave.