ERIE — Baseball players often speak of finding their comfort zone at the plate.
Vinny Rice found it in a big way.
The 2009 Seneca Valley graduate is currently hitting .366 as a senior first baseman for Penn State-Behrend and is getting on base nearly 45 percent of the time.
He was recently chosen as the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference Player of the Week after batting .579 (11-for-19) during the first week of April.
From March 22 through April 7, Rice managed a 10-game hitting streak during which he batted .586 (17-for-29), helping the Lions go 8-2 in that stretch.
“It’s awesome to know at the end of the day that I did my part for the team,” said Rice. “During that hitting streak, every pitch looked like a beach ball, no matter who was pitching.”
Rice, a native of Lancaster Township, was a catcher on Seneca Valley’s varsity squad as a junior and senior. He was moved back and forth between catcher and first base in limited playing time his first two years of college before taking over as the starting first baseman his junior campaign, when he batted .232.
“I’m not sure if it was just a question of maturity,” said Rice. “I’m just more confident now.”
According to Behrend coach Paul Benim, there is no secret to Rice’s rise to success.
“I’ve been the head coach here for 21 years and can tell you that Vinny is one of the hardest working players I have coached,” he said. “We recently had a practice and the weather started to take a turn for the worse. The entire team was coming off the field except for Vinny. He was running laps out on the warning track.”
Rice had contributed 13 RBI and 11 runs scored entering Tuesday’s game against Mount Union.
“Vinny can sometimes be his own worst critic,” added Benim. “I think he’s now more relaxed at the plate and that helps. He competes every day.”
Rice’s improvement is also evident with his defense. In 210 total chances this season, he has made just a single error.
“It has taken me a while to get completely comfortable with playing first base,” he said, “but I like the position because you are involved in a lot of plays.”
“Being a former catcher, he has a strong foundation and brings a catcher’s mentality to first base when it comes to blocking the ball,” said Benim. “He has evolved into an outstanding first baseman.”
The Lions are currently 20-8 overall and 11-1 in AMCC play as they search for their first conference title in three years.
Either way, Rice is grateful for the opportunities he has received both on and off the field.
“I’m so happy I chose this school,” said Rice, a mechanical engineering major. “I love everything about it, both academically and athletically. I can’t complain.”