Matthew Thaiss (PC: UVA Athletics)
The 2015 college baseball season wrapped up last Wednesday night in Omaha, and the Virginia Cavaliers defied the odds by winning their first College World Series title in school history. The 2015 Cavaliers’ team will always be a part of college baseball history, and three Cavalier players have also managed to make Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League (PGCBL) history as well.
With three former PGCBL standouts on the roster, Virginia’s Matt Thaiss, Ernie Clement, and Jack Gerstenmaier all became part of PGCBL history by becoming the first players to win a College World Series title after appearing in the PGCBL in years prior.
While the entire Virginia team was battle tested throughout 2015, catcher Matt Thaiss acknowledges that the PGCBL, “was a great decision that helped me prepare to play college baseball at a high level.”
Thaiss played with Watertown in 2013, Clement with Albany and Gerstenmaier with Newark last summer.
As the 2015 postseason concluded at TD Ameritrade Park, second baseman Ernie Clement was the first to receive postseason hardware that was not the national championship trophy. After delivering a clutch two-out, two-run single during Tuesday night’s win-or-go-home game two, Clement cemented himself as a sure pick for the All World Series team, going 3-for-4 in game two and 3-for-7 in the championship series overall.
Clement may have received extra postseason hardware, but the work of Matt Thaiss behind the plate was nothing short of sensational throughout the year. Splitting time between catcher and designate hitter throughout the regular season, Thaiss batted .323 in the middle of the Cavs' order and in the postseason also took over as the full-time man behind the dish. As Virginia’s pitching staff began to dominate in their late run for a title, Thaiss became the battery mate for an explosive staff that was constantly delivering throughout May and June.
“We have a very talented pitching staff and team,” Thaiss said. “We shut the door when we needed to, and I believe that’s a testament to the understanding our team has all together.”
As Thaiss locked down the staff from behind the plate, Jack Gerstenmaier did the same in the Cavalier outfield. With an unquestioned ability to work the outfield day in and day out, Gerstenmaier became one of the defensive leaders for a club that needed quality defensive play while the Cavalier bats struggled at times at the plate. With a primary focus on the defensive side of the ball, Gerstenmaier managed to use his versatility as a key factor for a Cavaliers team that was in the middle of a magical run for a championship.
“All of our guys played a huge role,” Thaiss stated. “We were a team that needed different guys to step up in different situations and they did.”
In the middle of the season, the Cavaliers began to get healthy, and as Matt Thaiss states, “that’s when things started to click.” As health returned to the club, the Cavaliers new they had what it took to win in Omaha.
“If we played our style of ball, we knew we could make a run at a title,” Thaiss said. And just like that, Virginia found themselves right back in the mix after sweeping their Regional and Super Regional on the way to a College World Series appearance that ended in a championship.
Over the years the PGCBL has delivered its fair share of special talent that has flocked to bigger and better heights. While these three men accomplished that goal last Wednesday, Thaiss agrees that the time he spent in the PGCBL was also a learning experience that helped him prepare for the grind of college baseball.
“It taught me how to play away from home, and go up against top competition day in and day out,” Thaiss said. “I believe the PGCBL is the best summer league in the country, and I wouldn’t change my decision to play there for anything.”
With the PGCBL continuing to grow to new heights in 2015 by adding the Saugerties Stallions and Victor RailRiders, competition has strengthened within the league’s core. As one of the top collegiate summer leagues in the country, the winning ways of past performers like Thaiss, Clement, and Gerstenmaier seem to be opening the door for more talented college prospects to take their talents to New York in the summer months.
“I would absolutely encourage guys to play in Upstate New York,” Thaiss added. “I was there as a senior in high school and it really taught to how to grow and mature as a person and a player.”
With new facilities, talent, and superb coaching on hand, The PGCBL has proven itself as a top spot for college talent. Now, as the league continues to grow bigger and better, the question becomes how big the PGCBL can be as it continues to impress with its upward trending league.