|Jeff Mountain and Scott Landers had similar results as players at the Division III World Series and are hoping to turn it around for their teams.
Photos by Steve Frommell, d3photography.com
By Austin Walther
GRAND CHUTE, Wis. – For six of the eight teams at the Division III World Series this weekend, the experience is a new one. But two of those six aren’t going in completely blind: Their head coaches appeared in the World Series as players.
Oswego State’s Scott Landers and Washington & Jefferson’s coach Jeff Mountain both have pitched in the World Series.
Landers made three appearances with Cortland at the end of the nineties in Salem and made it to Appleton in 2000 as a coach for the Red Dragons.
Mountain was able to reach the World Series with Allegheny in their first trip in program history as a senior in 2000, which was the first year the Series was in Appleton.
Landers said the three trips to the World Series was an experience of a lifetime and he will never forget it.
“I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Landers said. “I wouldn’t trade where I went to school, or the outcome of anything, obviously, you hope you win it, but I had the opportunity to play in three World Series and be a contributor and be out there.”
Mountain had the same feeling toward his World Series appearance, but what made his trip unique is that it was the Gators’ first appearance.
“It was the highlight of my athletic career,” Mountain said. “There was pride and the community is proud, the professors, the athletic department and everyone was pretty fired up about it.”
Since the Division III World Series certainly has a different feel to it as opposed to a regular season or regional game, the approach of a player might be different. Landers, though, said he didn’t change anything about his game and he’s telling his players to do the same.
“Like I tell these guys, you have to enjoy it,” Landers said. “It’s a once in a lifetime thing. Hopefully for some of these guys, they will be back next year. This is a great moment in their early lives. They have to enjoy it.”
Both Landers and Mountain had key roles as players in their team’s performances at the World Series. Landers has the record for the most losses at the Series with four. Mountain on the other hand remembers his role being a little different.
Tied at three in extra innings vs. St. Thomas, Mountain gave up a walkoff home run on an 0-2 pitch in a game that would’ve sent the Gators to the championship. The next game, they suffered a loss to the eventual champions Montclair State in an elimination game, but Mountain said the overall experience is what really matters.
“I remember being in the driver’s seat for two games,” Mountain said. “When I look back there was a lot of happiness and pride. It’s a great field, great people, great downtown area and it was fun.”
It’s been nearly 20 years since either coach’s playing days in Appleton. Landers said it’s a new feel as a head coach, but it’s still the same pride. He instilled a vision for his Lakers six years ago and he said it’s great to see it come true.
“Now it’s a much different feel [and] I’m very excited for our community, the parents, our alum that have helped me along the way,” Landers said. “But most importantly these guys. They came in with the same vision that I put out there for them six years ago and they finally got to that point and hopefully we can win a national championship.”
Oswego had been to the regionals three years in a row. Washington & Jefferson, on the other hand, missed regionals a year ago and Mountain said that’s all the motivation his squad needed.
“I think that was a big motivating factor for us,” Mountain said. “The way our season ended [last year]. We lost to a really good Thomas More team.”
Mountain is in his 14th season as the Presidents’ head coach and he is the winningest coach in program history by nearly 300 wins. He has seen many successful teams, but what has made this team different is a lot of resiliency.
“We had to come back through the losers’ bracket in our conference tournament and we lost in the last day of the regional and had to bounce back,” Mountain said. “They’ve done a really good job with that. Hopefully we can do a good job this week.”
Every coach’s dream is to win the national championship and even though the Lakers had never been to a World Series, Landers said that has been his goal since day one and he’s happy to see the players buying into it.
“It became reality with the more and more guys we got in and the support we have had,” Landers said. “For the last two years that has been our goal. We’ve fallen short of that the last couple of years. We’ve been to the regionals, we’ve been a top 10 program, so hopefully now is the time.”
Oswego certainly has a lot of experience and Landers said that is the difference maker about the 2017 Lakers and why they finally reached the World Series, landing the No. 1 seed. They’re battled tested with playing in the SUNYAC and New York Regionals. He said they know how to get here, but now it’s a little different.
“They’ve brought the other guys along,” Landers said. “It’s a special team. They will always have a special place in my heart. They know that the other seven teams here are very good. You can’t take anything for granted and we have to play good baseball.”
No team in the remaining field has won a Division III World Series title. Mountain believes that holds well for the Presidents’ first year at the Series.
“We’re our best when we’re loose,” Mountain said. “If we can stay cool, play clean baseball, I think we will have a good chance to do pretty well.”
Landers said this is a huge accomplishment for the community and university of Oswego as they play ball for the first time in the World Series this weekend.
“The players are ready to go, but it is a great honor,” Landers said. “I’ve had a lot of support, emails, text messages and phone calls, it’s been unbelievable. It’s been a great ride, but we have unfinished business right now.”
Mountain also said it’s a huge step for the university and program because they don’t normally get big name transfers. He expects the support they have had all season to be in Appleton this weekend.
“We had a lot of support and great crowds at our regional which we were fortunate and one of the reasons we’re here is because it was at our home field,” Mountain said. “I think a lot of them will be coming. So they’re definitely behind the whole way.”