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Brian Alterio is used to flirting with perfection on the baseball diamond, so he's not totally annoyed he won't graduate from Erie Community College with a 4.0 grade-point average.

Still, he's quick to point out why he will have to settle for a GPA that's slightly flawed once he completes his final semester later this month -- he earned two B's last spring in classes taught by professors who tend to be reluctant to award students A's.

But being almost academically perfect at the nearby junior college is all right with Alterio, because his 3.89 GPA is likely to earn him more scholarship dollars than the 1.32 earned-run average he currently boasts as the Kats' top relief pitcher.

Alterio, a 6-foot, 180-pounder, has the brains and the right arm that make him an ideal student-athlete, which means he won't have any trouble moving on to a four-year school this fall to continue his sports and scholastic career. It's just a matter of what academic institution will be lucky enough to recruit the 20-year-old. He won't have to make a decision regarding his future until the end of the season, which he hopes is after the NJCAA Division III World Series, slated to begin May 21 in Glens Falls.

"That's the place where you want to play your best ball because you're not only going to be playing in front of college coaches but pro scouts as well," said Alterio, who occasionally starts and sports a 3-0 mark with one save. He had allowed just three earned runs in 20 1/3 innings of work as of press time. "They want to see how you pitch at the World Series. Hopefully, that'll open the doors for more opportunities, give me more exposure. I know I'm going to a school after this. I want to play baseball and go to school, but I want to make sure it's education first and the baseball second."

Several Southern Division II colleges, as well as local Division I school University at Buffalo, have expressed interest in Alterio, longtime ECC baseball coach Joe Bauth said. While most NCAA Division I football and basketball programs have huge operating budgets and plenty of scholarship dollars, the national pastime is an afterthought. The NCAA limits programs to a maximum of 11.8 scholarships.

To put it in perspective, baseball has fewer scholarships than basketball, even though its roster is nearly double in size.

That means players like Alterio are considered a find because they have the ability to get additional financial relief due to their intelligence, in addition to getting some athletic dollars.

While Southern baseball is regarded as better quality -- programs in the warm-weather South have the luxury of being able to play through the winter months -- Alterio is more concerned about his future outside of baseball, which is why he will only head South if it makes academic and financial sense. Alterio, whose uncle Tony owns Alterio's Pizzeria across from Summit Park Mall in Wheatfield, wants to be a lawyer and have a financially secure future. Both of Alterio's parents work for the county's Social Services Department.

"If I go to school that long, I hope I make a good living coming out," said Alterio, who opted to attend ECC, instead of enrolling in a four-year school, after graduating from Niagara Falls High School because he wanted to improve his chances of being recruited by Division I and II programs. "It's just a matter of how I can package them and what's the best mixture of academics and athletics. I can get a scholarship to go to a Division II school, but if the academics aren't there I won't really consider it . . . .

"I'll be more prepared for life after college . . . I'll have the degrees. I'll have the better paying jobs, more accomplishments after sports."

Alterio, who didn't allow an earned run during the fall portion of the club's schedule, has a strikeouts-to-walks ratio of 3-to-1. While he hasn't thrown a perfect game at any level in his career, he has recorded a pair of 4.0 GPAs in his first three semesters in the classroom.

"He's as close to being a perfect student-athlete as can be," Bauth said. "He does everything we ask him to; does it without question; and he does it at a high level. And he's a great teammate. He was definitely brought up right."

ECC (22-9, 13-0 in Region III) is the favorite to win the Region III tournament, which begins with a single-game elimination first round May 10. Four winners will advance to the double-elimination portion of the tournament May 13 in Troy that will determine the region's representative in the eight-team World Series.

Alterio only throws in the mid-80s but makes up for the lack of velocity with a deceptively funky delivery. The delivery enables him to throw a moving fastball and helped make him a four-year varsity hurler for Niagara Falls High School -- compiling a 10-6 mark as the hard-luck staff ace that pitched well in defeat many times for the then-offensively challenged Wolverines.

He earned his big-game experience, and notice from college coaches, playing summer ball in the Buffalo AAABA, a league for the area's elite scholastic and collegiate players age 20 and under. He started and won the league's playoff championship game each of the past three seasons -- two with Bison Beverage and one with Collins and Collins -- and has pitched twice in the National AAABA Tournament.

Alterio has pitched in the league since he was a high school sophomore and is 13-0 his last two seasons as a starter. He has even baffled several of Bauth's former ECC hitters during his time in the league.

Alterio has rediscovered his confidence, and curveball, and learned how to throw a slider -- giving him a third pitch to help keep the quality college-level hitters honest in the event his curveball goes on the fritz.

He has been nails this season, earning his save a week-and-a-half ago when he inherited a bases-loaded, no out ninth-inning jam with a two-run lead against Morrisville State College.

While academics will ultimately decide Alterio's path, baseball helped him become the student he is today.

"I like being a college athlete because I don't have a lot of free time," he said. "When I do have free time, I have to do my schoolwork. When I have free time, I have to stay focused and get things done."

Whether on the mound or off, the closer to perfect, the better.

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