By Greg Gulas
For the second time in four seasons, the Mercyhurst University Lakers under head coach Joe Spano have qualified for the NCAA Division II College World Series.
The No. 7 seeded Lakers will meet No. 2 Columbus (Georgia) State in opening round action on Sunday at 7 p.m. in Cary, N.C.
Six area players dot this year’s Mercyhurst roster and have played an integral part of the best four-year run in school history.
Local players are: seniors Jimmy Standohar of Girard, Drew Delsignore of Cardinal Mooney and Michael Montalbano of Ursuline; sophomores Jared Kapturasky of Austintown Fitch and Vinny Lucente of Ursuline; and red-shirt sophomore Hunter Snyder of Springfield Local.
Graduate assistant-strength and conditioning coach Dan Popio of Boardman and freshmen Matthew Gibson of New Castle, Pa., and Adam Jeannette of Beaver Falls, Pa., are with the team for the double-elimination tourney.
“Over the years, my programs have been built on Youngstown area athletes and I couldn’t be more proud of them,” said Spano, in his 19th season at the helm. “It has been a long standing tradition to recruit the Youngstown area because they are a special group of blue-collar athletes.”
The Lakers are 36-13 (20-8 in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference, West Division). Over the past four seasons, the Lakers have posted a 157-46 mark with two World Series appearances and four consecutive PSAC West division championships.
It’s a run of which senior second baseman-outfielder Standohar is most proud. The Girard graduate is sixth on the team with a .315 average and has started 48 of the team’s 49 games.
“I made an unbelievable decision out of high school when I chose to come to Mercyhurst,” Standohar said. “I knew that they had a great baseball program with excellent tradition, but found out soon after I arrived that it was way more than I ever expected.”
Standohar became a starter as a junior. He vividly remembers the school’s first World Series appearance as a freshman when the team went 1-2, winning their first game against Truman State, losing to eventual champion Tampa and then before bowing out to Cal Poly-Pomona.
“It was a great experience for us and we’re looking forward to a return trip this year,” he said. “Our pitching and defense is solid and that is what has gotten us to this point.”
A catcher in his second year with the Lakers after transferring from Mercyhurst North East Junior College, Delsignore is third on the team with a .345 batting average. He has started all 49 games and is tied for the team lead with 59 hits.
“This is definitely the best baseball experience that I have ever had,” the Mooney graduate said.
Montalbano, who played right field as MU swept through the Atlantic Regional and punched its World Series ticket with a 4-2 win over Seton Hill, is batting .260 with 14 runs.
“When I arrived last year it was so exciting because everyone always talked about the goal, which was to get to the World Series,” he said. “It didn’t happen last year. [It] has this year and I’m just happy to be a part of it.”
Kapturasky has played in 33 games, splitting time in the outfield while making two pitching appearances. He said Spano has a way of bringing out the best in his players.
“Coach is a guy who tests your limits, yet isn’t a guy who is always down your throat,” Kapturasky said. “He puts it on us, so it’s up to us to earn our spot and playing time. ”
Lucente is 1-1 in four appearances, having seen limited duty due to shoulder tendinitis.
Snyder attended Youngstown State University in 2016, transferred to MU from Solano Junior College and split time behind the dish with Delsignore before breaking his left hand in the middle of the season. He won’t be available for the World Series.
Popio was a part of the Lakers’ 2015 World Series squad.
“With both teams, it was pitching and timely hitting that carried us,” he saidd. “There really isn’t much difference between the two squads except that this year’s team might not be as experienced as the one four years ago.”