The Presidents celebrate a program-best third-place finish at the NCAA Mideast Regional.
The Presidents bring home a third-place finish at the NCAA Division III Mideast Regional
Four Washington & Jefferson College baseball seniors were supposed to be eight hours away from walking across the stage to receive their diplomas, not walking onto a bus in Terre Haute, Ind., to be greeted by lukewarm pizza. The bus pulled out of the Art Nehf Field parking lot and headed back to team headquarters, the Holiday Inn Express. The Presidents had survived to play another day after a grueling, 16-hour experience of a lifetime at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III Mideast Regional.
“I remember asking (Assistant Coach) Mark (Thomchick) what time it was and he said 1:30 a.m.,” said Head Coach Jeff Mountain. “I didn’t believe him. The game just flies when you are so involved. You lose sight of things like time.”
W&J Commencement was set to begin on May 18 at 10 a.m. on a beautiful day in Washington. Twenty-four hours before the academic festivities and 410 miles from campus, W&J took the field for a morning elimination game against the College of Wooster. The Presidents trailed 5-2 in the top of the eighth inning, but a three-run double by Scott Liller ’13, one of the four graduating seniors, and a RBI single from D.J. Michalski ’14 pushed W&J in front 6-5. The Fighting Scots tied the game and the first round of craziness ensued.
Both teams were held scoreless for three innings before W&J broke through with two runs in the 13th to earn the 8-7 victory. All-Region outfielder Josh Staniscia ’14 doubled home the first run and scored on a Ronny Peirish ’14 groundout. Marc Rizzo ’14 recorded the win after three innings of relief, and due to a double switch, had to make his first collegiate at-bat, a rarity for a relief pitcher in college baseball.
The final out was recorded at 1:58 p.m., with the game lasting three hours, 58 minutes. W&J would have to win again later in the day to advance.
“Our guys didn’t give up all year,” said Mountain, who won his 300th career game when the Presidents defeated Thomas More in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference (PAC) championship. “Having come back against NCAA-quality teams before, we developed a culture of winning. No matter the circumstances, these guys fought back and I’m proud of that.”
The team took in a quick lunch and rested for a few hours. Due to the lengthy opening game, the tournament schedule was pushed back. W&J would play league-rival Thomas More in an elimination game at 8:45 p.m. The winner would face two-time defending national champion Marietta the following morning.
The Presidents fell behind 7-3 after three innings, perhaps still feeling the effects of playing 13 innings just six hours prior. Two runs in the fourth and single runs in the sixth and seventh tied the game. Then, the zeroes started appearing on the scoreboard.
“We couldn’t score, but our pitching held everything together,” noted the five-time PAC Coach of the Year. “Once extra innings started again, the players were running on adrenaline and developed a rhythm. The coaches, on the other hand, we are thinking of stuff like how are we going to feed these guys or how much sleep can we get if we end up winning this game. Plus, you worry about pitching and finding the right time to throw a new arm out there.”
Mountain may not have known it at the time, but quality arms were the least of his concerns. Mike Vizzini ’14 entered the game in the third and pitched eight innings of scoreless baseball. All-American right-hander Eddie Nogay ’14, the expected Saturday starter if the Presidents were victorious, relieved Vizzini in the 11th and went the rest of the way.
A diving catch by Stansicia ended a Thomas More threat in the eighth inning with the game tied 7-7 around the same time the post-game pizza arrived. Vizzini worked
his way out of trouble in
the ninth, and the 10th
inning began 13 minutes
Nogay took the ball at
12:27 a.m. for the 11th
inning. W&J loaded the bases
in the top of the 13th inning, but a 1-2-3 double
play ended the chance to break the game open at
exactly, of course, 1:23 a.m.
At 1:51 a.m., the game became the longest
in W&J history at 15 innings and caught the
attention of many locally and nationally on
social media. Three straight singles loaded the
bases once again, and Staniscia delivered a
fielder’s choice to score Michael Ruffing ’16.
Peirish followed with an RBI single, while Kyle
McLain ’14 brought home a pair with a double.
The Saints did not go quietly, scoring once in
the bottom half of the 15th, but a 6-4-3 double
play ended the game at 2:07 a.m. W&J 11,
Thomas More 8. Five hours, two minutes and
a day later on the calendar. Nineteen runs, 38
hits and six double plays. Exactly nine hours on
the field since the first pitch against Wooster. Scott Brady ’13, another one of the seniors
who would miss commencement ceremonies,
celebrated the diploma he was about to receive
with a career-best 5-for-8 day at the plate.
In the previous 13 years, Washington & Jefferson
had played three games that lasted at least 13
innings. In the span of 15 hours, W&J battled
Wooster for 13 and Thomas More for 15.
“We’ve been fortunate to have a lot of good
days in my years at W&J, but that’s one I’ll
never forget,” said Mountain with a smile. “All
the credit goes to the players. Mike has been
good all year in relief, but that was his best
performance of the year. Eddie wanted the ball
once Mike tired out. He’s scrappy, and there was
The game against the Marietta Pioneers was
scheduled to start at 10 a.m. Due to the unusual
circumstances, the tournament committee
petitioned the NCAA to push that back to noon.
After about six hours of sleep, W&J fought
valiantly, but saw its season come to an end with
a 6-2 loss. The remarkable season ended with
a 33-13 record and a program-best third-place
NCAA regional finish.
“Winning three games showed we belonged,”
said Mountain. “In our previous experiences on
this stage, we could have had similar success, but
a bounce here or a big play there never seemed to
go our way. This year it did, and that’s baseball.
After this experience, we know there’s not a team
out there that we can’t compete with.”
– SCOTT MCGUINNESS