Baseball Starts Bertolini Era Friday at Austin Peay Tournament

Joe King (Photo by Trevor Parks)
Joe King (Photo by Trevor Parks)

The Youngstown State baseball team will begin the 63rd season in program history and its first under head coach Dan Bertolini this weekend at the Riverview Inn Governors Challenge in Clarksville, Tenn. The Penguins will open the 2017 campaign against tournament host Austin Peay on Friday at 4:30 p.m. Eastern, and YSU will play Indiana State on Saturday and Illinois State on Sunday.

Live stats will be available throughout the weekend through links on YSUsports.com, and there will be live audio for the game against Austin Peay. Fans can also follow @YSUBaseball on Twitter for live updates.

Bertolini is a Youngstown-area native who averaged more than 29 wins over the past eight seasons as head coach at Mercyhurst North East (NJCAA Division II). His teams were ranked in the top 20 every season from 2012-15, and his success was largely based on recruiting the Youngstown area. Bertolini's assistant coaches are Josh Merrigan (pitching), Eric Smith (recruiting coordinator) and Ryan Krokos (volunteer assistant). Bertolini replaced Steve Gillispie, who was the Penguins' head coach for the last four seasons.

While Bertolini and his staff hope to provide a fresh approach and a renewed sense of energy in the dugout, the roster largely remains the same from the 2016 team that finished with a 14-38 record. The Penguins showed potential last season with a doubleheader sweep of Missouri in March and a win over No. 28 Kent State, and one of the goals this season will be to display that high level on a more consistent basis. Seven of the nine seniors on the roster were freshmen on YSU's 2014 Horizon League Tournament Championship team that went on to beat Indiana State in the Bloomington Regional.

There are 19 returning letterwinners from last year's team on the squad, and the lineup will likely feature returners at every position except catcher. Likewise, the rotation will feature left-handers Joe King and Collin Floyd, who combined for 27 starts last season, and another 14-game starter in Jeremy Quinlan should retake his spot in the rotation when his injury recovery is complete in the coming weeks.

King will start on the mound on opening day for the second straight season, and he will be in the weekend rotation for the third year. He has made 25 starts over the past two seasons, and he led the Penguins with 72.1 innings pitched in 2016. Floyd, who will start on Sunday, led the Penguins in strikeouts as a freshman last year and had the most strikeouts by a YSU lefthander in 10 years. Saturday's starter has not been announced.

Youngstown State's first true series of the season will be at Georgia Tech next weekend. The Penguins and Yellowjackets will begin their three-game series on Friday at 4 p.m., and they will play at 2 p.m. on Saturday and at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

Opponent Scouting Reports

Austin Peay was picked to finish third in the Ohio Valley Conference preseason poll after finishing with a 34-23 record in 2016. Alex Robles, who will start against YSU on Friday, was named the OVC Preseason Pitcher of the Year.

Indiana State was tabbed to finish fourth in the Missouri Valley Conference preseason poll, and the Sycamores are coming off a second-place finish in the conference. Indiana State finished 35-21 overall last season and returns four position starters and six key pitchers.

Illinois State was picked to finish eighth in the MVC poll after posting an overall record of 17-37 and a 7-13 league mark in 2016. The Redbirds have 19 returners on the squad

Native Son Bertolini Takes Over Program as Head Coach

Youngstown native Dan Bertolini is in his first season as YSU's head coach after leading Mercyhurst North East (NJCAA) for the previous eight seasons. At age 31, he is one of the youngest head coaches in Division I.

Mercyhurst North East averaged more than 29 wins over his eight seasons and won at least 30 games in four of his final five seasons. The Saints won regional titles in 2012 and 2014 and were ranked in the top 20 nationally from 2012-15. His success was largely based on recruiting the Youngstown area.

Bertolini's assistant coaches are Josh Merrigan (pitching), Eric Smith (recruiting coordinator) and Ryan Krokos (volunteer assistant). Krokos is a 2015 YSU graduate who also coached for the Penguins in 2016. Merrigan coached at Morningside College in 2016, and Smith coached at Eastern Kentucky.

Schedule Notes

YSU opens the 2017 season this Friday at Austin Peay as part of a tournament with Indiana State and Illinois State. The Penguins will proceed to play their first 19 games of the season on the road, the final of which will be at Ohio State on March 21.

The Penguins' home opener at Eastwood Field is slated for March 24 against Oakland. YSU is scheduled for 21 home games in 2017, including Kids Day games at 11 a.m. on April 28 and March 19.

Roster Composition

There are 32 student-athletes on Youngstown State's roster in 2017, and 21 of them were on last year's roster. There are nine seniors, eight juniors, 10 sophomores and five freshmen.

The returners are expected to play big roles all across the diamond. The main three starting pitchers are all back from 2016, and the projected opening day lineup has eight returning players.

Yarabinec Earns Preseason Praise from D1Baseball.com

Youngstown State senior right-hander Kevin Yarabinec was named the Horizon League's seventh best Major League Baseball Draft prospect in the 2017 class by D1Baseball.com.

Yarabinec is in his third season as YSU's closer, a role he also held as a freshman and a junior. He was a member of the weekend rotation as a sophomore while battling injuries. Yarabinec enters his senior season ranking sixth in program history with eight career saves.

Last year, Yarabinec became the sixth Penguin to lead the club in both wins (5) and saves (3) in the same season. He joined Glenn Head in 1981, John Nurczyk in 1992, Kyle Sobecki in 2000, Ryan Sellman in 2006 and Russ Harless in 2012.

Penguins Picked Seventh in Preseason Poll

Youngstown State was picked to finish seventh in a preseason poll of the Horizon League's seven coaches. Wright State was tabbed as the preseason favorite and received six out of a possible seven first-place votes and 47 of a possible 49 points. The Raiders were followed by UIC (40), Milwaukee (36), Valparaiso (27), Northern Kentucky (22), Oakland (16) and YSU (8). Bertolini is one of four first-year head coaches in the conference (Oakland has co-managers). PerfectGame.org placed the Penguins fifth in its preseason poll, ahead of Northern Kentucky and Oakland.

Pitching Rotation Notes

  • Senior left-hander Joe King looks to pitch at the front of YSU's weekend rotation for the third straight season. He has made 25 starts over the past two seasons, and he led the Penguins with 72.1 innings pitched in 2016.
  • Sophomore righty Joel Hake looks to make a successful move to a starting role after leading the club with 28 relief appearances last year. Hake had a 4.40 ERA and pitched in 47 innings in 2016 while tying the school record for appearances by a freshman.
  • Senior right-hander Javier Alvarez signed with the Penguins in the fall of 2014 and is on track to make his debut in 2017. He pitched 132 innings over two years at L.A. Harbor College in 2014-15.
  • Left-hander Collin Floyd led the Penguins in strikeouts and strikeouts per nine innings as a freshman in 2016. He had the most strikeouts by a YSU freshman since eventual MLB pitcher Justin Thomas in 2003, and he had the most strikeouts by a YSU lefty since Chris Dennis in 2006.
  • Senior right-hander Jeremy Quinlan will battle an injury for the first few weeks of the season. Quinlan is the most experienced pitcher on the roster with 31 career starts and 167.1 career innings pitched. He could finish in the top 10 in program history in both categories.

Position Player Notes

  • YSU lost its top two hitters in terms of batting average from last season in 1B/DH Gerrad Rohan and 2B Billy Salem. The Penguins will also have a new catcher because no player on the roster has more than six starts behind the plate at the Division I level.
  • OF Lorenzo Arcuri, OF/3B Alex Larivee and SS Shane Willoughby are all four-year starters who were prominent players on the 2014 NCAA Regional team.
  • Arcuri led the Penguins with 12 steals last season and will be the starter in center field for the second season.
  • OF Kyle Benyo became the third Penguin in the last three years to be named to the Horizon League All-Freshman Team last season. He batted .283 against conference opponents in 2016.
  • First baseman Andrew Kendrick led the Penguins with four home runs last season. He also walked 34 times, which was the sixth-most for a single season in program history.
  • Larivee is the most-experienced hitter on the roster with 541 career at bats and 153 career hits. He could become the 11th player in program history to record 200 career hits.
  • Willoughby ranks in the top five in program history for career assists with 402. He has averaged 134 in his first three seasons, and he is 130 behind record holder Josh Page (2004-08).