As the Sinclair Community College baseball team meets Macomb Community College in the first round of the NJCAA Region XII Tournament at Cedar Point’s Sports Force Park in Sandusky on Wednesday morning, here are a few of the Tartan Pride’s numbers that stand out:
• They are 40-8 this season and while that’s impressive, it’s become routine under head coach Steve Dintaman. His teams have averaged 40 victories a season during his 11 years at Sinclair. And over the past five years, the Pride has won more games than any other National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) program in the nation.
• They’ve won 28 games in a row.
• Sinclair just won its eighth Ohio Community College Athletic Association regular season title in the past 10 years.
• With 21 players having a grade point average over 3.0 and three with a perfect 4.0 mark, this team has the highest GPA of any Sinclair baseball team. It will be named an Academic All America team at season’s end and figures to have seven Academic All Americans.
• The most remarkable number, though, is that 13 and maybe 14 players off this year’s team will be going to an NCAA Division I program next season. In the past 11 years over 100 players have gone to on to four-year schools and more than 50 went to D-I programs.
“This is a great stepping stone,” first baseman Eddie Pursinger, who is headed to the University of Dayton next season, said as the team held is final practice at the Athletes in Action field in Xenia before leaving for regionals. “It’s pretty clear, as long as you do the right things and buy in, you can go on to the next level.”
That was the case for the Pride’s Jack Goonan, who, at 6-foot-3, 265 pounds (down from 278) and with long flowing locks, looks more like a pro wrestler than a hard-to-hit closer.
Coming out of tiny Ayersville High School in northwest Ohio, he wanted to play at a D-I school, but got no offers. He figured he could up his stock at Sinclair and already after his freshman season last year had a couple of schools who wanted him.
He decided to return this season in hopes the interest would intensify and it did.
With at least 10 new offers, he has chosen to pitch for Virginia Tech next season.
That storyline repeats over and over with this team, including with Brandon Henson, who is now the school’s all-time home run hitter and will play at VCU next season. Other teammates will head to Cincinnati, Murray State, Wright State, Dayton, Eastern Kentucky and Northern Kentucky.
“In a two-year setting like we have, you never really rebuild you just kind of reload,” said Dintaman.
The Pride is able to do that, Pursinger said, because Dintaman and assistant coach Mike Parr “are both really good recruiters. They know Ohio well. They get the kids who are ‘lost looks’ or whatever.”
That could describe Goonan’s situation.
In high school he was primarily a catcher – and a heavyweight wrestler – and only switched to pitching as a senior.
While other coaches were hesitant, Dintaman saw a diamond in the rough. And now the Pride has a gem, he said:
“His velocity is pretty steady, usually 91 to 93 (mph) and occasionally he brings it up a little harder. He’s got a split-finger change up and he’s got a hammer of a breaking ball. When he throws that, it buckles people. Not just guys in the batter’s box, guys in the dugout buckle when they see it. He’s turned into a nice, complete little pitcher.”
Well, maybe not little.
Catcher turned closer
As Goonan sat in the Athletes in Action dugout the other afternoon, you saw the tattoo on the inside of his upper left arm.
“It’s an Irish Claddagh,” he explained. “My dad was from Ireland and this honors him. The hands symbolize friendship. The heart is for love and the crown stands for loyalty.”
He said his father moved to America when he was a teenager and met Jack’s mom, Sheryl, an Ayersville grad living in Massachusetts, when he was a pilot and she was a stewardess for a Cape Cod air service
They had two kids, Joe and Jack, and Jack said four months after he was born, his father died.
His mom, with help from her parents, raised the two boys mostly on her own back in northwest Ohio.
“She was a nurse and went to school at night to become a teacher,” he said. “She teaches eighth grade English now.”
The school is across the street from his house – in a town with two intersections, a church and just a couple of businesses – and he spent a lot of time at the baseball diamond.
Because he showed such a good arm as a catcher, he was turned into a pitcher his senior year in high school. He drew some small college interest but thought he could develop more at Sinclair.
This season he’s made 14 appearances, has five saves and a 2.41 earned run average. In 18.2 innings he’s struck out 28.
Virginia Tech spotted him at a junior college showcase in Indianapolis
“I wanted to play in a major conference and now I’ll be in the ACC,” he said. “Sinclair has put me on a great path for my future.”
‘I fell through the cracks’
Pursinger had made a splash in his sophomore season at Anderson High School in Cincinnati, but then had, in his words, “a really poor season” as a junior.
Although he said Marshall University had made him an offer and Cincinnati had promised a roster spot as well, they and everyone else shied away after he bottomed out.
“My phone just stopped ringing,” he said. “That sucked.”
Although he rebounded some his senior season, he still garnered little interest and said he considered giving up the game.
“I was close to hanging up my cleats because no one was calling,” he said. “Out of the blue I decided to go to a winter prospect camp at Wright State. It’s for younger players, but I was desperate.
“Jeff Mercer, he’s Wright State’s head coach now, he was the hitting coach then and he pulled me aside and was like ‘What are you doing here?’
“I was like ‘I fell through the cracks.’ So he set me up to see Dintaman.”
At 6-4 and 220 pounds, Pursinger had impressive size and power and Dintaman gambled on that.
Pursinger hit the ball well in the fall of his freshman year, won a starting spot and then promptly nosedived again in the spring.
He lost his starting job and struggled again this past fall.
Dintaman met with him and said he told him they believed in him and stressed that he take advantage of the opportunities he was getting.”
“He did that, stole his job back and has really been on a roll,” Dintaman said as he pointed to a stand of trees beyond the Athletes in Action field:
“He’s put balls in the trees up there. His power is ridiculous.”
Pursinger is hitting .356 with eight home runs in 107 trips to the plate. Most of those big shots have come late in the season.
“Coming out of high school I wasn’t really sure about junior college baseball in general,” Pursinger said. “I wondered what the competition would be like. What the experience would be like.”
That thought made him smile:
“It’s been great for me…and all the guys here, really.”