The clipboard that seems permanently attached to Jeff Mountain’s right hand before, during and after baseball games at Washington and Jefferson College fell to the ground.
Tears welled in his eyes and the Mountain man, who has transformed the Presidents’ baseball program from doormat to national power, had revealed rare emotion.
Jeff Mountain appreciated his team’s effort and “nearly flawless” play in the NCAA Division III Regional at Salisbury, Md., two weeks ago.
W&J – NCAA runner-up in 2017, had slayed two of the country’s top-10 rated teams, the host Sea Gulls and Rowan.
The Presidents, apparently were an afterthought for the NCAA selection committee, having been sent into the mouth of what was thought two exceptional teams.
W&J whipped Salisbury in the first round and then dealt Rowan consecutive defeats.
The Presidents followed with a Super Regional sweep of host Misericordia this past weekend to earn a trip to the College World Series in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, which begins Friday with a game against Chapman (Calif.), at 11 a.m. (EST) at Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
It has been quite a turnaround for W&J, which went 1-6 on a Florida trip early in the season.
W&J (37-11) has won 34 of its last 38 games and eight consecutive postseason games.
The players, and everyone who is part of the proud Presidents baseball program, points to Mountain and his professionalism, organization, preparation, coaching prowess and caring personality as to what makes W&J succeed.
Mountain has been turning the fortunes of W&J baseball since becoming coach in 2003.
All of that was on display in Salisbury, where Mountain thought W&J was placed to simply get the Presidents out of the way and out of the tournament.
Surely, a program that has done so much winning and one that clearly is an established power in the national picture deserved a bit more respect.
“It was kind of funny, I was out there on the mound for the final out,” said Clay Martin, a senior pitcher and Canon-McMillan High School graduate. “After the final out in Salisbury, the guys came out and we dogpiled it on the field. Coach Mountain is always level headed and you don’t see much emotion. But you could see he was choked up.
“At the end, going through the handshake line, I gave him a big hug – maybe the first time I hugged him after a win. His emotions were moved. He was crying by the time (center fielder) Dante Dalessandro hugged him and the clipboard was on the ground. No one ever saw that before.
“Him taking it so personal that the (NCAA) would just stick us there and expect us to lose kind of rubbed off on us. He definitely wanted that a little bit more than usual.”
Dalesandro said Mountain set the tone before the trip.
“He told us there should be a chip on our shoulders,” Dalesandro said. “He said: ‘This pisses me off. Does this piss any of you off’? He’s never emotional. After we won, I saw him and ran up to him. He dropped the clipboard and we hugged. He started sobbing. I couldn’t help but to sob as well.”
Mountain’s persona and the way he has prepared the Presidents was indeed the difference at Salisbury.
“I thought (the seeding and placement) was kind of unusual,” Mountain said. “You’re never disappointed when you’re in the NCAA tournament. But to be put in a region like that with two powerhouse teams, schools with 20,000 students and pretty much unlimited resources, we took it as a challenge.
“It’s fun to play those types of teams. As a coach, you just want to get the most out of your team. Sometimes that’s a .500 record. Sometimes it’s reaching the playoffs. With us, expectations are high. We reached our potential that weekend. With what we could control, fielding ground balls, throwing strikes, performing in stressful situations and under pressure, we did as well as we could. It was amazing and I felt so proud of them and good for them. It really moved me.”
Rise of W&J baseball
In his 17 seasons at the helm, Mountain has led W&J to eight Presidents’ Athletic Conference championships and seven trips to the NCAA Division III tournament.
He has a career record of 492-258-2, a .656 winning percentage.
The Presidents won their first regional title in 2017 when they hosted the Mideast Regional. W&J advanced to the World Series and the championship round, coming within one victory of a national championship before losing twice to Cal Lutheran.
It was quite a turnaround from the program Mountain took over that had won 21 games in their previous four years.
He was hired by Rick Creehan, who was the Presidents’ athletic director at the time. Creehan recruited Mountain to Allegheny College.
Mountain, a 2000 graduate of Allegheny, finished his playing career as one of the most decorated pitchers in Division III history. He was a two-time NCAC Pitcher of the Year and led Allegheny to its first Division III World Series appearance in 2000. He was a second-team All-American that season.
In one of his first moves, Creehan turned the baseball program over to the 24-year-old Mountain.
With just two years of experience on Allegheny’s baseball staff, Mountain was charged with building W&J’s program.
Pat Aigner, known as the starting quarterback on W&J’s 1987 football team that went undefeated during the regular season and advanced to the South Region championship game (national semifinals), also was a catcher for the baseball team.
“My freshman year, the team won the college’s first PAC title in baseball,” Aigner said. “But the baseball program was definitely not to the level it is now, nowhere close.
“No question, when I was at W&J, the baseball program wasn’t to the caliber of the football program. It wasn’t on the radar. But Coach (Mountain) has built it into a power. Now, the baseball program is gold standard.”
By all accounts, Mountain is tireless in his pursuit of information on opponents, and finds ways to be more effective and efficient in search of any edge that can help W&J win and be better.
His scouting reports are thorough and helpful. The information he brings to the program and games leads to better play and victories.
Tony Pascarella is an assistant coach for W&J after a long career as an administrator at Elizabeth Forward High School. He met Mountain on a recruiting trip with Pascarella’s son, Neil, who enjoyed a fine career with the Presidents.
Pascarella, who since retired as a school administrator, joined the staff after his son’s career was over.
“Jeff was organized and no nonsense,” Pascarella said. “He was thorough and accommodating, just a nice guy to talk with.
“He didn’t promise my son anything and I liked that. He looked him in the eyes. He gives his players the opportunity to prove themselves. He is sincere and solid.”
Pascarella said Mountain maintains that same persona today. But he has changed with the times and after having children of his own.
“Jeff holds them accountable,” Pascarella said. “He is tough and he expects them to be focused and to work hard each practice. He understands what kids go through. Having his own kids, has made him a different coach in some ways. He still has the same expectations of them.”
Scott McGuinness, W&J’s athletic director, marvels at Mountain’s hold on the program and his players. He added that the coach’s competitive nature is unmatched.
“I have never been around anyone my entire life that reaches the level of competitiveness of Jeff’s,” McGuinness said. “He will find an edge for his players and when he presents it to them, they believe it. He could walk into an MLB clubhouse right now and make a contribution.
“Jeff works so hard. He works to the core to give his guys an advantage. They appreciate it. Every coach evolves. He is different. He knows what today’s student-athletes deal with.
“After nearly two decades, everyone is realizing what he has done. I appreciate it,” he continued. “He’s a fantastic coach and person.”
Sean King is the assistant athletic director for communications and media relations for Allegheny, and former Sports Information Director at W&J. He witnessed Mountain’s transformation firsthand.
Said King: “Jeff Mountain is one of the best coaches in the country. Period. What he has done with that program, having taken it from essentially a doormat to a legit national contender regularly is amazing.
“He does it the right way. (He) wins with high-academic, high-character kids. His teams are routinely led by upperclassmen who buy in and develop into leaders. It’s everything we routinely preach in Division III. You can tell the amount of respect he carries by the volume of players, parents, etc. that stay involved in the program after their careers are over. He’s a winner who brings out the best in those around him.”
Mountain credits his wife Gretchen, daughter Claire, and son, Bryce for changing him for the better and allowing him to drive the W&J program as he sees fit.
“The best things that ever happened to me is getting married and having kids,” Mountain said. “They are all understanding. It can be a challenge, with both of us working and the kids in school. I do not take my opportunity for granted. I am truly blessed with a great wife and children.”
His W&J baseball family grows with each passing season as well. In many cases, the support and attention from outside the program swells.
“One of the most satisfying things for me as a coach is to see these men go on, remain friends, be part of one another’s lives after W&J,” he said. “They are in one another’s weddings. They text me, call me and stay in touch with the program. To think W&J baseball had a piece in them staying together and having lifetime friendships is gratifying.”
Mark Thomchick plated for Mountain from 2007-2010. He coached under him. Thomchik answered the call last weekend to serve as an assistant coach as two of Mountain’s assistants had to miss the Super Regional at Misericordia for personal reasons.
Thomchik was eager to assist.
“It was an awesome experience to be able to help,” Thomchik said. “We all have a connection that just endures. Jeff concerns himself with the program and the players.
“He doesn’t care about personal glory. He likes the background. He finds a way to make it good for his players. He is one of the best coaches in the country, regardless of division. When W&J baseball is playing, a lot of alumni does what they have to do to watch on the computer or find out what is going on. The following and the loyalty is there.
“He has brought great pride and interest to W&J baseball.”