W&J baseball makes history in 2017

The W&J baseball team knocked down scores of records in 2017 en route to a runner-up finish at the program’s first trip to the NCAA Division III Baseball Championship.

As a team, the Presidents set a new program record with a Division III-best 42 wins this season (42-13 overall record), surpassing the previous mark of 36 wins set by the 2012 squad. They matched a Presidents’ Athletic Conference (PAC) record for most wins, held by the 2012 and 2014 W&J teams, with 21 of their 42 wins coming against PAC opponents, including six season sweeps. W&J won its 11th PAC championship this year, the most among current PAC member schools, and won its first regional championship in its sixth trip to the NCAA postseason.

After placing second at the Baseball Championship, W&J ranked 2nd in the final polls for 2017, besting its previous mark of 14th.

The Presidents showcased one of the top offenses in the nation in 2017, finishing first in doubles, hits, home runs, runs scored, and sacrifice flies. W&J also placed second in Division III in slugging percentage (.527), fourth in runs per game (9.0), and fifth in batting average (.346). The offensive production allowed the Presidents to put up a season-high 23 runs twice this season and set a program record of 25 hits in a 16-7 win over Union (N.Y.) on March 23. W&J held a 23-0 record in 2017 when the offense produced 10 or more runs and were 30-0 when scoring at least eight runs.

The W&J pitching staff also had a strong year, tying the 2013 team for the second-most shutouts in a season with seven. In addition, they limited opponents to three runs or less 30 times, with a record of 29-1 in those games. As a team, Presidents pitchers combined for a 3.46 earned-run average, 24th in Division III, and a 1.24 walks plus hits per innings pitched (WHIP) rate, coming in 14th in Division III. Their seven shutouts on the year were tied for the sixth most in the nation.

Right fielder Nick Vento ’17 capped one of the best playing careers in W&J history. Vento played and started in 54 of W&J’s 55 games this season, both single season records. He also set the program single season record for at-bats at 207. His 87 hits, 63 RBI and 137 total bases were all second most in a single season and his 19 doubles tied the program record. For his career, Vento now ranks first in program history for games played, games started, hits, doubles, home runs, RBI, and total bases. Vento also ranks second in career at-bats and batting average, tied for third in walks, and is fourth in runs.

Right-handed pitcher Riley Groves ’17 also knocked down several school records after being the Presidents’ go-to starting pitcher this season. Groves compiled an 11-3 record with a 2.30 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 94 innings this season. His 11 wins are the second most in a season in school history. He tied for the third most wins in Division III this year, while he established a new program record with his 94 innings and moved into fifth place on the single season strikeouts list. The two-time PAC Pitcher of the Year (2015, 2017) finished his W&J career with 28 wins, tied with Eddie Nogay ’14 for the most in school history.

The 2017 season proved to be a career best for Derek Helbing ’17. The PAC Player of the Year found his power stroke, blasting 12 home runs, tied for 10th most in the country and tied the W&J single season record with Neil Pascarella ’10. The senior backstop set a school record with 40 walks this year, 11th most in the nation, which pushed his career walks total to 87, also a W&J record. Helbing was a key component in the Presidents’ bullpen as he pitched 11.2 innings as the closer this season and totaled a 0.77 ERA with six saves. The six saves tied his mark from last season for second most in a season and his career total moved to 12, also tied for second most with Kyle McLain ’14.

Shortstop Nick Gatins ’17 and first baseman Mark Merlino ’18 also reached 19 doubles this year to set the new single season record with Vento. Gatins finished with a .401 batting average in 51 games with 73 hits, third most in a season, and totaled 114 bases, fifth most in a season. Merlino capped his junior year with a .388 batting average in 53 games with eight home runs and tallied the fourth most total bases and fifth most walks, respectively, in a season.