Niagara Gazette

Niagara U.

May 21, 2010

Wietlispach worked his way from afterthought to leader at Niagara

NIAGARA FALLS — The best player on the Niagara University baseball team was almost never recruited to play here.

Two years ago, then-Purple Eagles coach Chris Chernisky went to the junior college World Series in pursuit of Trevor Rutkowski, an all-American third baseman playing for Elgin (Ill.) Community College.

At the time, Rutkowski wasn’t sure he wanted to continue his baseball career. Cleaning out his temporary locker the day after he met Chernisky, Rutkowski grabbed the coach’s business card and flipped it to his roommate, Matt Wietlispach, who was much more interested in moving on to a four-year school, but had yet to receive any offers.

“Here’s an option for ya’,” Rutkowski said.

When Rutkowski eventually decided to take a visit to Monteagle Ridge, he asked Wietlispach to come with him. Rutkowski would later recall that he didn’t enjoy the visit very much.

A couple days later, Chernisky called to gauge his interest in signing with Niagara. “We just signed your good friend Matt,” Chernisky said.

Rutkowski then told Wietlispach, “I’m not going to leave you out to dry, so I guess I’ll see you in Niagara Falls.” Over the past two years, he’s been a solid, if unspectacular player for the Purple Eagles.

Wietlispach has been something else.

When he arrived on campus for fall ball, Wietlispach was informed he was last on the outfield depth chart.

A guy who is too competitive to let his little cousins win at wiffle ball, Wietlispach said to himself, “whoever is front of me, I’ll out-work.”

Wietlispach was in the starting lineup and batting leadoff for the 2009 opener. He began the season on a 12-game hitting streak, and finished up with hits in 18 of his final 22 games. He led the team with 65 hits, including 22 with runners in scoring position, and was a second-team all-conference selection.

In 2010, Wietlispach has been, “without a doubt, our team MVP,” coach Rob McCoy said.

Heading into this week’s series with Canisius, Wietlispach was leading the team in batting average (.329), slugging percentage (.502) hits (68), home runs (eight) and stolen bases (19).

“Across the board, he’s been our best player,” McCoy said. “He anchors us in a leadership role. He leads us on the field, off the field, in the weight room. I wish I had him for two more years. If I had nine or 10 of him, we’d win a lot of games.”

Wietlispach credits some of his success to Rick Ruggiero, who coached him on the Lieb’s Muny ball team over the summer.

“He had a good way about the game and put everything in perspective for me,” Wietlispach said. “He helped me realize that the only thing that matters is your last at-bat.”

The Purple Eagles play their regular season finale today needing a win to stay in contention for the postseason. Win or lose, Rutkowski doesn’t think his roommate is nearing his last at-bat.

“I really think he’ll move on his career. He’s kept advancing every year I’ve known him,” Rutkowski said. “For Matt Wietlispach, I think the future is going to be amazing.”

Contact reporter Jonah Bronstein at 282-2311, ext. 2258.

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