It’s a rite of spring.
Flowers bloom, the weather improves and the baseball team at Washington & Jefferson makes a strong postseason run.
This year is no different.
W&J erupted for five runs in the first inning that sparked the Presidents to an 8-1 victory over Bethany in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference championship on a brisk Saturday afternoon at Ross Memorial Park.
The wins raised the record of the top-seeded Presidents to 32-11, but more important earned them a berth in the NCAA Division III tournament. The Presidents will find out who and where they play Monday. One possible site is Ross Memorial Park.
It was the 8th PAC tournament title for Washington & Jefferson, which earned the top seed after winning an 11th PAC regular-season title.
“Once you get to the point that it’s an expectation, the moments aren’t too big,” said W&J’s Jeff Mountain, who is in his 17th season as head coach. “It’s expected. They want to live up to what was done before them, and before them, and before them. … It’s harder to build than it is to maintain.”
W&J produced 13 hits and knocked Bethany starter Ken Ryan out of the game before he could get the final out in the first inning.
W&J starter Santino Platt did not allow a hit through the first three innings and only three hits and one run in seven innings. He struck out two and walked one on 85 pitches. A second-team All-PAC selection last year, Platt slumped this season. He was 5-4 with a 5.68 ERA and had not gone longer than six innings in any start.
“It was eerily similar to two years ago, when he was a sophomore,” Mountain said. “The shoe was on the other foot. We were in Bethany’s position then, needing two wins for the title. He came out and gave us 8 2/3 innings. Our assistant coach Nic Rush got through to him. He wanted him to get that swagger back. He really pushed to start Santino and deserves a lot of credit for that.”
Platt said the postseason brings out the best in him.
“I was excited. I was ready to go. I wanted to pitch in the championship,” said Platt. “A big game? I get called for it and I’m ready to go. My teammates helped me through the regular season and fired me up for this game.”
Bethany head coach Justin Thomas was not in the dugout. He was suspended for both games after being thrown out of Friday’s game against Grove City. Assistant Stephen Stanley ran the team. Grove City head coach Matt Royal also was ejected and suspended for arguing with Thomas.
The Bison, who finished with a 27-16 record, were making their first appearance in the championship game since 2001. The last time they qualified for the PAC tournament was 2014.
“I told them let’s go out and have some fun and see what we could do today,” said Stanley. “At this level, against a team like W&J, it’s a whole different ballgame.”
Dante Dalesandro sent Ryan’s first pitch into center field for a single and W&J was off and running. Mullen Socha walked and Josh Crummer drove them both in with a double into the gap in right.
Two outs later, Joey Bolick singled Crummer to third and Spencer Howell had a book-rule double to score Crummer and move Bolick to third base. Justin Griffin singled in Bolick and Howell and that was it for Ryan.
W&J made it 7-0 in the fourth when James Artale drove in two runs with a single to center, giving him seven RBI against Bethany in this tournament.
“This past month, I’ve been working really hard, driving the ball up the middle,” said Artale. “I’m really seeing the ball well, driving the ball to the gaps.”
Neil Woods produced the Bison’s only run with a sacrifice fly in the fourth inning.