The Youngstown State baseball team will begin the 2012 season by playing games against four different teams in three days in the Raleigh, N.C., area, starting with Friday's season opener against Canisius. First pitch against the Golden Griffins is set for 1:30 p.m. at the USA Baseball Complex in Cary, N.C. YSU will play at North Carolina State on Saturday at 11 a.m. before returning to Cary to play Monmouth at 3 p.m. The Penguins will finish the weekend against Bryant at the USA facility on Sunday at 10 a.m.
- Youngstown State returns 15 letterwinners from last year's team that won two games in the Horizon League Tournament. Included in that group are six returning position starters.
- There are 11 true freshmen, four junior college transfers and three more players coming off redshirt years on this season's roster.
- Of YSU's four projected starters this weekend, three of them have never pitched for YSU.
- YSU has just two seniors on the squad -- first baseman Jeremy Banks and infielder/designated hitter David Leon. Both players have started more than 130 games in their careers. Banks is one of three YSU players since 2000 to hit at least .300 in his first three seasons.
- The Penguins will be on the road for four weeks before their home opener, which is scheduled for March 16. They're scheduled to play their first 15 games on the road.
- North Carolina State is one of four teams from BCS conferences on YSU's schedule. The Penguins are also slated to play Iowa, Pittsburgh and Ohio State.
- YSU is also playing in North Carolina next weekend in Kannapolis against Fairfield and Long Island.
On the Mound
Youngstown State is scheduled to start three newcomers in its four games this weekend. Sophomore right-hander Patrick O'Brien is set to make his Penguins debut against Canisius in the opener. He joined the squad last spring as a transfer from Bowling Green, but the Youngstown-area native had to sit out per transfer regulations. He earned four wins and six saves for the Falcons as a freshman. Blake Aquadro, YSU's lone southpaw starter, is slated to start against North Carolina State on Saturday. He made seven starts and 16 relief appearances last season, and the junior closed out the 2011 campaign by posting a 1.82 ERA over his final 24.2 innings. Junior righty Pat Shedlock, a transfer from Cuyahoga Community College, is scheduled to start against Monmouth on Saturday. Joey Gajda, a junior right-hander from Oakton Community College, is set to start Sunday against Bryant.
Canisius is coming off a 26-32 campaign, but the Golden Griffins have been picked to win the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in the conference preseason poll. Senior third baseman Drew Pettit and sophomore infielder Jose Torralba were both named to the all-conference preseason team. Junior right-hander Billy Martin, who went 4-3 with a 4.81 ERA in 15 appearances last year, will start against YSU.
Scouting North Carolina State
NC State went 35-27 last season and was picked to finish third in the ACC's Atlantic Division in the conference preseason poll. Senior catcher Pratt Maynard earned first-team all-conference accolades last season when he hit .323 with 21 doubles. Closer Chris Overman is one of 45 relievers named to the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Stopper of the Year Award watch list. Danny Healey, a junior right-hander who was 2-4 with a 6.15 ERA in 52.2 innings last year, is the probable starter against YSU.
Monmouth is the preseason favorite to win the Northeast Conference title in 2012. The Hawks went 36-19 last year but are without the defending NEC player and pitcher of the year. Still, they return nine pitchers from a group that led the NEC in team ERA, including high-rated professional prospect Pat Light and Freshman All-American Andrew McGee. Although Monmouth has not announced its starter for the game against YSU, Light is slated to start earlier in the weekend.
Bryant has been tabbed to finish fourth in the NEC this season in the preseason poll. The Bulldogs finished 30-23 overall and 19-12 in conference play last season, and they return six starting position players and the majority of their pitching staff. Sophomore right-hander Craig Schlitter, who was 2-2 with a 4.50 ERA in 48 innings last season, will start against YSU.
Pasquale Hopes for Deeper, More Defined Bullpen
Head coach Rich Pasquale is hoping to have more defined roles for the bullpen this year than in 2011. While trying to find the right combination in the starting rotation - eight different players started on the mound and only three were exclusively relievers - Pasquale was forced to move people in and out of spots in the bullpen. Entering the season, right-handers Kevin McCulloh, Nic Manuppelli and Nick DiBartolomeo will work in the late innings. McCulloh has closed in the past and earned his first save last season, and Manuppelli allowed one run in his final 10 innings last year before a season-ending injury. DiBartoloemo, a freshman, is slated to open the year as the closer.
Guins Held Top Fielding Percentage in 2011
YSU held the high-mark among Horizon League teams in fielding percentage during the regular season last year at .965. That was the Penguins' best effort in the field since 2000.
Dosch Hoping to Build on All-Newcomer Season
Sophomore Drew Dosch was named to the Horizon League All-Newcomer team last year. The third baseman batted .262 and stole five bases last year despite missing 13 games with an injury. Dosch hit .615 during the final week in March to earn Horizon League Batter-of-the-Week accolades right before the injury. He will be the first Penguin to ever play in the prestigious Cape Cod League this summer.
Looking for Big Things Offensively from Newcomers
YSU will be looking for early success at the plate from Youngstown-area natives Marcus Heath and Jake Kucek, who are both newcomers. Heath was the conference player of the year and a Second-Team All-America pick and hit .430 with nine home at Sinclair Community College last year. Kucek had the third-best batting average in the country last year at .481 with Cuyahoga Community College. He was also a Second -Team All-America selection.
Offensive Drop Last Season
Although offense was down largely across the country last season with the introduction of new bat standards, YSU was hit particularly hard by a dropoff at the plate. YSU hit .240 and averaged 7.75 hits, 0.13 home runs and 3.27 runs. In 2010, the Penguins hit .305 while averaging 7.45 runs, 10.88 hits and 10.7 home runs.
Two New Assistants in the Dugout
YSU has two new assistant coaches for the 2012 season. Ed Marko has taken over as the recruiting coordinator and pitching coach, and Bobby Pizzuto is in his first season as well. Marko was most recently an associate scout with the Colorado Rockies. In his other stops, Marko has coached a national championship team at the junior college level while producing two NJCAA All-America pitchers, seven all-conference pitchers and four all-region pitchers. Forty-eight hurlers he has worked with have been drafted, including three in the first round. Pizzuto coached last season at Notre Dame Cathedral Latin after earning four letters at Buffalo.
Youngstown State will return to the Tar Heel State next weekend for four games against Long Island and Fairfield in Kannapolis.