It has been a quiet season for the Seton Hill baseball team’s pitching staff.
And that’s just fine by Griffins coach Marc Marizzaldi.
“They just put their head down,” said the man who has now led the NCAA Division II program at the small Catholic university located in Greensburg for 19 seasons. “They love playing baseball. They’re all extremely quiet, like mild-mannered kids, but competitive as heck. They love competing.
“It’s hard to take any of them out of the game,” Marizzaldi added. “You can see we have some complete games, and I’ll be honest, sometimes it’s them convincing me to keep them in, but that’s just the kind of competitors they are.”
Heading into Saturday’s scheduled doubleheader against Gannon, the Seton Hill pitching staff had a 3.15 ERA, the lowest in Division II nationally. The Griffins pitchers’ combined 375 strikeouts, 10 shutouts and 7 complete games are all best in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference.
It’s no coincidence then that Seton Hill (38-8, 24-0 PSAC West) is boasting a 14-game winning streak and sits atop the conference standings, Marizzaldi said. The Griffins are currently ranked No. 18 as a team in the NCAA rankings.
Seton Hill clinched the PSAC West championship on Saturday with a sweep of a doubleheader against Gannon (17-23, 11-13). The Griffins will wrap up their regular season this week with four consecutive games against PSAC second-place Mercyhurst (26-12, 19-5) beginning Thursday.
“We’ve had different hitters kind of get hot and cold throughout the year,” said Marizzaldi, who graduated from Baldwin High School in 1994 and Duquesne University in 1998. “We’ve won a lot of different ways — some close games, some big wins, some extra-inning wins, on the road and at home — but I think the glue to it all has really been our consistent pitching and defense throughout the season.”
A pair of former WPIAL standouts has been at the center of it all atop the Seton Hill rotation.
Junior right-hander Jon McCullough, a 2020 Seneca Valley graduate, has a 4-0 record in 10 starts with a team-low 1.83 ERA, to go along with 44 strikeouts, three complete games and a .194 opponents batting average. Senior left-hander Kevin Vaupel, a 2019 South Park graduate, has a 6-1 record in nine starts with a 2.04 ERA and a team-high 68 strikeouts and three complete games.
“Every year that I’ve been here at Seton Hill the pitching staff has been really good,” McCullough said. “It just keeps getting better and better it seems.”
For McCullough, his success has been even sweeter after missing all of his 2022 sophomore season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
Now completely healthy, McCullough said his fastball is hovering around the low 90-mph range, while he mixes in a slider, changeup and curveball.
“I feel even better having that year off and focusing on just getting back to rehab and everything like that definitely helped me this year,” he said. “I would say that this year is probably my best year ever.”
Unfortunately for Vaupel, he said he will miss the remainder of the 2023 season after suffering a “muscle strain and borderline UCL strain” in his last start. He said the injury will not require surgery but could take up to six weeks to heal.
“Personally, this is disappointing,” Vaupel said. “The timing sucks, then again timing is never really a good thing with injuries. It makes it a lot better when you have 50 dudes around you picking you up every day. The drop off for pitching isn’t even close.
“I say that in a very good way,” he added. “Our rotation is one of the best in the country. I believe our pitching staff is one of the best in the country. I think we have the dudes to step in.”
Vaupel said he is still slated to pitch in the MLB Draft League, an elite summer league for draft prospects, if his rehab goes as planned.
“I’m hoping for the best,” he said. “We are going to play it by ear. Hopefully I get to play this summer.
“I’m for sure coming back for a fifth year,” he added. “With everything this summer and the draft, if the slight chance I do get picked up, which would be awesome, that would be a conversation I’d have to have with my family.”
Junior right-handers Brandon Bergert and Aidan Layton round out the Seton Hill starting rotation. Bergert is boasting a 6-1 record with a 2.70 ERA and 65 strikeouts, while Layton is 5-1 with a 2.65 ERA.
Caiden Wood, a right-handed graduate student and North Allegheny alum, has also excelled for the Griffins. In 12 appearances, he has a 3.09 ERA.
Sophomores Blake Barker and Jared Dowey have also contributed strong innings. Barker has an 0.46 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 19 2/3 innings, while Dowey has a 1.54 ERA in nine appearances.
“I don’t think they think about the stats,” Marizzaldi said. “I think we do as coaches way more than they do as players. They work so well together.”
Like its pitching staff, the Seton Hill lineup is led by a group of former WPIAL standouts.
Before Saturday’s games against Gannon, senior catcher Vincenzo Rauso, a Central Catholic graduate, is hitting a team-best .374, while freshman center fielder Jack Whalen, a Norwin graduate, is hitting .351 from the lead-off spot with a team-high 43 runs scored and 36 stolen bases.
Upper St. Clair graduate Max Mandler, a sophomore infielder, is hitting .336 with 28 RBIs, and senior Greensburg Salem graduate Jack Oberdorf is hitting .329 with a team-high 39 RBIs.
Norwin graduate Owen Sabol and Montour native Logan Vietmeier are also contributing for the Griffins. Sabol, a senior infielder, is hitting .322, while Vietmeier, a graduate student first baseman and catcher, is hitting .315 with 36 RBIs.
“Everything has been going good,” Whalen said. “I feel like our pitching and hitting has been able to combine chemistry together, and some of the games whenever we don’t, we find a way to fight it out for the win.”
Whalen said playing for a team with 24 former WPIAL players has provided a source of comfort for himself and his teammates.
“All of us are in it together,” Whalen said. “We’re just getting the continued support from just every single person on the team. It’s a lot more relieving knowing they have my back no matter if I do good or bad.”
And with such chemistry in tow, Seton Hill will be looking to get back to Cary, N.C., for a shot to play for the Division II national championship for the first time since 2021. The Griffins fell in the Atlantic Region final of the NCAA tournament last season to West Chester.
“To steal Mike Tomlin’s quote, ‘The standard is the standard’ here,” Marizzaldi said. “There’s certainly an expectation each and every year to compete for a national championship.”