Jamestown hosts DII Atlantic Region Championships

Photo by Scott Kindberg Pictured hitting a fungo is West Chester coach Jad Prachniak during Wednesday’s practice at Diethrick Park for the NCAA Division II Atlantic Region Championships.

JAMESTOWN — Diethrick Park and the city of Jamestown are set to take center stage today as the NCAA Division II Atlantic Region Championships, which will be held through next Monday, get underway.

The historic ballpark and the city itself have already begun to make a lasting impression on the seven teams that will be competing in the tournament in the coming days.

“When I knew we couldn’t get our stadium (UPMC Park) because the (Erie) Seawolves were in town for some of the time, this was like a no brainer for me,” Joe Spano, the head coach of the tournament host and top-seeded Mercyhurst Lakers, said Wednesday night at Jamestown Community College’s Physical Education Complex. “I’ve always just loved this stadium, loved Jamestown, loved the Chautauqua area. … The (playing) surface is still just phenomenal. I know there are a lot of newer parks and stuff, but I just think it still has a lot of the (feel) of the old parks. I just love it. I love the press box, I love the quirky dimensions, the high fences, the high walls, the bullpen. It has a beautiful grandstand. It has everything you’d ever want for a tournament with the locker room facilities and the athletic training facilities.”

Joe Kimball, the director of athletics at Mercyhurst, echoed the sentiments of Spano.

“Even though it’s old, the field is in mint condition,” Kimball stressed. “I think it’s got a lot of character, a lot of character. I think the kids were impressed. You could see every team as they got off the bus and came into the stadium, they were impressed.”

West Chester, the tournament’s No. 2 seed, arrived in town Tuesday night.

“(Everything has been) very accommodating,” Jad Prachniak, the head coach of the Golden Rams, stated. “We got in (Tuesday) night, basically spent the night and had a chance to work out at the ballpark. It’s a great ballpark. So far, everything has been very accommodating and things have been good. … This is always a fun tournament. Anytime you get to this stage, it’s exciting. We’re familiar with a lot of the teams here, we know the caliber of play here, so they’re going to be competitive games. And ultimately, the team that plays the best is going to win this tournament.”

The Shepherd Rams, the No. 6 seed who hail from Shepherdstown, West Virginia, feel right at home in Jamestown.

“It actually reminds me a little bit of … Shepherdstown, West Virginia,” Chauncey Winbush, the vice president for athletics at Shepherd, explained. “Nice, quiet, small and we’re used to that and it’s great to be here. … It’s really quaint and the old-town feel, the old-school feel of the facility is really neat. We just think it’s going to be a great place to host the tournament. … I think the (players) are really excited as well. It was a long bus ride, but we’re here. … Let’s focus on trying to have some success. I think they are really excited.”

The head coach at Shepherd, Matt McCarty, actually has an interesting local connection.

McCarty played in the 13-year old Babe Ruth World Series 17 years ago at Diethrick Park for Winchester, Virginia.

“I was here a long time ago, 17 years ago, when I was 13, we played in the world series here,” McCarthy said. “It kind of brings back memories, but it’s a lot like Shepherd. Small town and it’s got that baseball feel to it. … We won our conference tournament … we’ve been playing well so I can’t wait to get back on the field.”

Diethrick Park and Jamestown could very well end up providing the perfect backdrop for the high-quality action on the field. After all, a spot in the NCAA Division II baseball World Series in Grand Prairie, Texas is on the line.

“When you get to this point in the season, anything can happen,” Marc Marizzaldi, the head coach of the No. 3 seed Seton Hill Griffins, emphasized. “The quality of baseball is just going to be fantastic. We’re coming off of a pretty good (Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference) tournament. We just want our guys to embrace the opportunity and enjoy the tournament.”

NOTES: Tournament action will kick off this morning at 11 a.m. when No. 3 Seton Hill (36-18) takes on No. 6 Shepherd (31-21). … At 3 p.m., No. 2 West Chester (36-11) will square off against No. 7 Winston-Salem (35-17). … The final game of the day feature No. 4 Millersville (33-17) and No. 5 Shippensburg (30-22-1) at 7 p.m.