Todd Williams grinned when he was asked about the possibility of his reaching the 400-win mark as the Pitt-Johnstown baseball coach.
Williams thought back to another interview 15 years earlier, when no one was talking about 100 wins, let alone 400.
Back in the spring of 1998, UPJ hadn’t had a winning season since 1983, when Williams was still a Mountain Cats player.
That soon changed.
“It’s amazing how fast it goes. I can remember when I took over and I was interviewed for a story in the newspaper,” said Williams, who has 398 victories entering today’s doubleheader against West Virginia Wesleyan at Point Stadium (5 p.m.). “Then when we started winning, I was interviewed and the paper referred to us as an up-and-coming program. Last week there was an article stating I was a veteran. Time flies.”
Williams’ first team as head coach went 7-33. Since then, the Mountain Cats have had 10 winning seasons under Williams, including four 30-win seasons. His 2008 squad went 37-19.
Even the losing records have been respectable at 24-25, 22-25, 19-22 and 19-24.
“The first year I took over I was hired a week before school started,” Williams said. “We went 7-33 that spring. I knew we had to get after it on the recruiting trail. I felt there were a lot of good athletes here and we recruited locally.
“We went by word of mouth and about what we were building. The next year we won 21 games. We just built it from the grass roots.”
UPJ has a distinct regional flavor. Next season the additions of Somerset’s Brent Barron and Conemaugh Township’s Dillon Boyer will increase the local presence. Additional area recruits are expected to announce their intentions soon.
“Dan Smith was my college roommate and teammate,” Williams said. “Dan’s son and my son will be freshmen for me next year. They’re both signing their letter of intent. My old roommate’s son and my son will be roommates next year.”
Luke Williams plays for defending state champion Bishop McCort. Davis Smith plays for Wilmington in District 10.
This season, the Mountain Cats are 24-17 overall, 12-13 during their final year in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
UPJ started the season 5-1 and was 10-3 at one point until injuries and illnesses took a toll during 12 losses in 19 games. Eight of those setbacks came by one run, though.
Area players such as Matt McMillen (Bishop McCort), Zach Vignero (Bishop McCort), Brett Marabito (Laurel Valley), Rylan Schnably (Bedford) and Kody Reighard (Forest Hills) have been significant contributors.
“The camaraderie of the kids is special,” Williams said. “We’ve done it with a lot of local kids, great kids, great student-athletes. There is that bond you form with the players.”
The Cats also are solid in the classroom. That’s one reason why today’s starting time was pushed back four hours from the original 1 o’clock first pitch.
“More than half of our team has finals (today),” Williams said. “We talked to West Virginia-Wesleyan’s coach and explained it to him.”
Saturday’s games will begin at 4 p.m. instead of 1 due to graduation.
“It’s always a battle to get games in but you do what you can,” Williams said. “We’re in the thick of a playoff run right now. The kids are real excited.”
Williams has coached future pros at UPJ. Conemaugh Township graduate Ben Watkins had a successful minor league pitching career in the New York Yankees system, advancing to Class AA. Claysburg’s Caleb Fleck pitches in the Arizona Diamondbacks system. Westmont’s Eric Faint was a pitcher at the pro level in Germany.
“It’s constant. I sleep with it. I live with it. I eat with it,” Williams said of UPJ baseball. “It’s something that is dear to me and close to me. I do it for the kids and do everything I can to make sure I’m leading them in the right direction when they go out on their own.
“I live it day to day whether we’re playing or it’s the nine months in the offseason.”