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Last season, Jon O’Neill (junior, criminology) was buried on the bench beneath a team of talented baseball players at Seton Hill University.
He earned just three starts as a sophomore for the Griffins, who were then a part of the West Virginia I n t e r c o l l e g i a t e Athletic Conference.
Seton Hill has since joined the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Western Division and is in first place with a 9-1 in conference record.
O’Neill is now an everyday starter at catcher, but not for the Griffins. He ditched the burgundy and gold and transferred to Indiana University Pennsylvania this year only to suffer a series sweep by the Griffins nearly a week ago.
O’Neill started in all four of the Crimson Hawks’ games against Seton Hill, only reaching base in two of his 11 at-bats.
He heard a lot of “chirping” from his ex-teammates, and he and his new team’s poor play just added fuel to their fire.
“It would’ve felt good to take a couple from them after the whole leaving situation, but what happened, happened,” said O’Neill, whose .261 batting average ranks fourth-best amongst IUP hitters this season.
“We’ll see them again.”
IUP isn’t scheduled to play Seton Hill anymore. Therefore, if the Crimson Hawks were to face the Griffins again, they’d have to finish in the top half of the PSAC West standings to make the conference tournament that’s set to begin April 30.
On Tuesday, the day after they played the second half of the four-game beating, IUP traveled 150 miles to Erie to face conference rival Mercyhurst University in hopes of crawling back into playoff position.
The Crimson Hawks swept the Lakers, defeating them by scores of 8-6 and 5-4 in the afternoon doubleheader.
“It was a perfect script to coming away from that four-game losing streak against Seton Hill,” head coach Jeff Ditch said. “We dug ourselves a little bit of a hole, had a chance to fix that, and we did.”
In college athletics, it’s usually senior players that give their team the best chance at winning, but Ditch credited his underclassmen.
Pitchers Zach Chinchilla (freshman, athletic training), Zach DeTillio (sophomore, sports medicine) and Kyle Zaorski (junior, finance) were praised for their role this season and in the bounce-back wins against Mercyhurst.
Chinchilla has pitched in 15 innings this season, allowing just two earned runs in eight appearances.
He leads the Crimson Hawks with a 1.20 ERA.
DeTillio ranks second on the team with a 2.05 ERA this year, and he also leads the team in wins with three thus far.
Zaorski has pitched the most innings on the team during their 2014 campaign, and he also has the most strikeouts by a large margin with 22.
He made his first relief appearance of the season in IUP’s second game against Mercyhurst.
He and DeTillio relieved the struggling Demetrius Christofes (senior, sports administration), and they fended off the Lakers, allowing just one hit and no runs over a combined six innings of work in the team’s 5-4 victory that went into extra innings.
“Coming out of the bullpen is something I’ve done before, so it wasn’t out of the ordinary,” Zaorski said. “It was just good to see that much success out of two people.”
IUP is now 5-5 in the conference, tied with the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown for fourth place in the PSAC West, which would be good enough to earn them a postseason birth if the regular season ended today.
However, the season is not even halfway over, and IUP has 18 games against PSAC West opponents left on the schedule.
“You’re never happy with where you are,” Ditch said. “You always wish you were one spot up.
“Yet you appreciate the games you’ve won and the opportunity to help yourself even more the next day.”
Next up for IUP is California University of Pennsylvania, which is currently in sixth place in the early goings of the PSAC West. The Crimson Hawks are scheduled to begin a four-game stint against the Vulcans Friday afternoon at Owen Dougherty Field – IUP’s first home game.
Barring any weather postponements to their home-opening series with the Vulcans, the Crimson Hawks will travel to Mansfield to take on the Mountaineers April 6 in a doubleheader.