Chicago -- Behind a memorable performance by pitcher Blake Aquadro, the Youngstown State baseball team knocked off Wright State 5-4 to stay alive in the 2012 Horizon League Baseball Tournament at UIC’s Les Miller Field on Friday afternoon.
Aquadro allowed three runs in the first and a solo homer in the second, but the junior left-hander from Memphis, Tenn., put up all zeroes on the scoreboard the rest of the game. That allowed the Penguins to rally, and Jason Shirley’s RBI double in the sixth brought in Jeremy Banks with the eventual winning run.
Youngstown State advances to Saturday to play another elimination game against the loser of tonight’s winners’ bracket final between UIC and Valparaiso. First pitch of YSU’s game on Saturday is set for noon Eastern. Wright State’s season ends with a record of 37-21 while YSU is guaranteed to finish at least third in the tournament.
The Penguins, who were 9-42 overall during the regular season and 0-6 against Wright State, continued to be opportunistic with the new life that comes with the postseason. Today’s win was especially emotional because YSU lost three lopsided games to the Raiders in the regular season, including a 32-4 decision on April 5.
“For what we went through against Wright State, in particular earlier in the year, and to be able to have a game like this is great,” an emotional head coach Rich Pasquale said after the game. “We knew Blake would come through, and I’m just so excited for him and our players to come up big. That was a clutch performance by a big-time pitcher.”
“Blake settled in and kept them off balance. We had some good defense behind him, and he was able to get them to chase some pitches. I cannot say enough about his effort.”
Aquadro allowed just one earned run on 10 hits in 8 2-3 innings to earn his third win of the season and his second in as many tournaments. Nic Manuppelli came in to record the final out and record his first career save.
Banks finished 2-for-4, and Craig Goubeaux walked and scored twice. Four different Raiders had two hits.
Wright State got three runs on an RBI single by Garrett Gray and a two-out, two-run double by Zach Tanner in the first inning, and Jake Hibberd hit a solo home run in the bottom of the second to put the Raiders up 4-0.
The Penguins cut the margin to one with a three-run third in which they took advantage of some uncharacteristic miscues by the Raiders defense. Goubeaux drew a one-out walk, and Kevin Hix reached on a bloop single to shallow right that probably should have been caught. Phil Lipari then walked to load the bases, and two runs came in when Tanner threw wildly to first trying to turn a double play. Drew Dosch then singled in David Leon for the lone RBI hit of the inning.
Wright State stranded two runners in the bottom of the third, and after Lipari’s double brought in Goubeaux to tie score at 4-4 in the fifth, Aquadro came up with his biggest outs of the game. Three straight singles loaded the bases with nobody out for Wright State in the bottom of the fifth, and Aquadro struck out Tanner and got Michael Timm to hit into an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play.
Banks made a good stretch and found the bag with his toes to complete the double play to end the fifth, and he led off the sixth with a double just inside the bag at third. Two batters later, Shirley provided what ended up being the game-winning hit with a double to left center that plated Banks.
Another double play ended Wright State’s sixth, and Aquadro made a nice stop on a bouncer back to the mound with a runner on second with one out in the eighth. The junior lefty got two ground outs to start the ninth, but Corey Davis hit a bloop double to left to keep the game alive. Manuppelli came in and got Tristan Moore, one of six seniors in Wright State’s lineup and the Horizon League Player to the Year, to bounce out to short to end the game.
The Penguins have now won at least two tournament games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since joining the Horizon League in 2002.