Poised for pressure

Career comes full circle for Standohar

Special to Tribune Chronicle Jimmy Standohar, a Girard High School graduate, plays in a game for Mercyhurst College last year. Standohar helped guide the Lakers to a NCAA Division II World Series appearance.

The pressure is on Jimmy Standohar this summer.

The former Girard Indian standout just spent the last four years adapting to another level of baseball at Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pennsylvania. He went through a learning curve and transformed his body as he endured through two tough underclassmen years. Things eventually came together and finished with a bang.

Now, he’s adapting again, and the pressure of winning is back.

“Right now it’s golf,” said Standohar, who recently graduated from Mercyhurst and spends his downtime on the course with his cousins, Evan and Mark. “I was pretty good in high school. I’m trying to get my scores back down to where I was. I’m trying to get down to 6 or 7, but it’s tough.

“It’s coming though. Playing with Evan and Mark, they’re really good golfers, so they challenge me. I either have to adapt or get smoked by them.”

Special to Tribune Chronicle Jimmy Standohar, a Girard High School graduate, makes a throw from second base for Mercyhurst College last year. Standohar helped guide the Lakers to a NCAA Division II World Series appearance as a senior.

OK, so maybe the pressure is slightly different than playing in the NCAA Division II World Series.

Either way, the 22-year-old is ready for whatever’s next. He went through a lot with the Lakers, from struggling to see the field as he sat behind two of Mercyhurst’s greatest teams, to coming through in the biggest of stages and helping lead the Lakers to a World Series berth.

Standohar admitted he wasn’t exactly ready for what was awaiting him at Mercyhurst.

“When you come out of a small school like Girard,” Standohar said, “it’s tough being the guy, playing second base, batting third, playing every day, and then about four months after that you go to college baseball and you’re like the lowest guy on the totem pole.

“You’re a freshman, you have to do all the carrying, all the dirty work and you don’t play as much. And I went to Mercyhurst when we had the best four years as a program, ever. So I was behind great infielders.”

He learned from those players in front of him, too.

The benefits of two seasons with minimal playing time were understanding the work and commitment needed to succeed. The Lakers were 83-25 during Standohar’s freshman and sophomore seasons and were two wins away from a national championship his freshman year.

While Standohar was skilled on the diamond — able to play anywhere in the outfield and multiple infield spots — something was missing.

“Freshman year, I rolled into there at about 140 pounds,” said Standohar, joking that he always exaggerated his height and weight on the roster. “I came in there really small, and that was biggest adjustment. It was like physically, these guys I’m playing with were huge — they’re men. That’s the biggest thing in college baseball is how much we work out compared to high school teams. We’re in the gym in the morning, we’re in gym in the afternoon between classes, I went at night after classes.

“But yeah, when I started developing physically, around 19, 20, 21 years old, that’s when I started to see a lot of improvements in my game.”

The changes were evident right away.

Given his ability to play multiple positions, Standohar was used as a utility player during his junior year. His .471 average was the best on the team (of players who participated in nine or more games) as he played a key role in the Lakers finishing 38-8 and reaching the NCAA Tournament for a fourth straight season.

The real highlights came as a senior, however. Standohar batted .306, with 52 hits (second best on the team), 39 runs (third best) and played five different positions — all three outfield spots, second and third base — while starting 50 of 51 games.

“It was a roller coaster of a senior year,” he said. “We had a great regular season. In the winter, we faced our guys live, and our pitchers are so good. A couple of them got drafted (one going in the fifth round), so facing professional-to-be arms in the winter definitely contributed.”

Despite going 36-11, Mercyhurst was shocked in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference tournament.

The Lakers lost two of their first three games and were quickly ousted. They still earned an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament, and that’s when the real fun started.

After a relatively smooth first victory, Mercyhurst rallied from deficits in three straight games. At one point in the regional semifinal, the Lakers trailed Seton Hill University, 6-0, and came all the way back to win in the 11th inning.

Standohar had the game-winning single with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the 11th. The two teams met again in the championship, and the Lakers overcame a 1-0 seventh-inning deficit to win, 4-2, and advanced to the Division II College World Series.

“We had a stretch of three weeks where we slept in our own bed at home three nights,” Standohar said. “We were sleeping on buses, at the airport during rain delays, in hotels. It was definitely a grind, but we really came together in the regional, and we just got in one of those modes where no matter what you throw at us, what situation or what team we’re going to play, we had a confidence that we’re going to come out on top.”

Unfortunately, the Lakers’ magic wore out in series, but the run was a memorable one.

Standohar, who called his game-winning hit the pinnacle moment of his career, has had a hard time letting the game go. A double major, Standohar recently graduated with degrees in marketing and management and is working for Rise Pies.

In his free time, he relaxes with his family and plays golf, where the stakes are always high. He’s also been fielding offers to join numerous slow-pitch softball teams, but he’s not ready to make the jump just yet.

“I’ve already gotten calls,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t think I’m ready to from the world series to slow pitch yet.”