The Youngstown State baseball team will play its first games this season in Ohio with a three-game series at Cincinnati this weekend. The Penguins and Bearcats will play Friday's opener and Saturday's contest at 4 p.m. Sunday's finale is scheduled for 1 p.m. All three games will take place at Marge Schott Stadium on UC's campus. The Penguins have started 0-6 after playing two tough southern opponents in East Carolina and No. 18 College of Charleston. Cincinnati is 2-4 with wins over Furman and Ohio State.
On the Mound
The same three starters will take the mound for Youngstown State in the third weekend of the season. Phil Klein will throw game one, Kevin McCulloh will pitch game two and Robert Switka will take the mound in the finale. Klein has pitched better than his numbers indicate as seven of the 11 hits against him have gone for extra bases. McCulloh was the Horizon League Pitcher of the Week after the first weekend, and Switka is coming off a solid outing at CofC.
- YSU is averaging just one run per game and has been shut out three times in the first six contests.
- Junior first baseman Jeremy Banks is off to a strong start with a .368 batting average and a .478 on-base percentage.
- YSU has not scored in the second through sixth innings yet this season.
- Sophomore right-hander Kevin McCulloh was named the Horizon League Pitcher of the Week on Feb. 21. He will pitch Saturday.
- Coming into the season, only three players on the roster had at least 150 plate appearances, and only two had thrown more than 60 innings.
- The Penguins open the season with 17 straight games on the road. Their home opener is not until March 23.
Cincinnati will be playing at home for the first time this weekend against YSU. In two preseason tournaments, the Bearcats have gone 2-4 with wins over Furman and Ohio State. Cincinnati is batting .302 as a team, but its pitchers have a combined ERA of 8.45. Justin Glass and Jake Proctor are hitting .458 apiece. The Bearcats have 16 newcomers and 16 returning letterwinners. Dan Jensen, Andrew Strenge and Nick Johnson will start on the mound for the Bearcats.
Banks Off to Strong Start
Junior first baseman Jeremy Banks is off to the hottest start of any Youngstown State hitter. Banks has hit safely in five of YSU's six games, and he is hitting a team-best .368. Banks has also drawn two walks and been hit by a pitch twice to bring his on-base percentage to an exceptional .478. Banks has hit over .300 in each of his first two seasons, but he got off to slow starts in both of those campaigns. In 2009, Banks was hitting .205 through March. He was batting .233 through March last season.
Despite his slow start, Joe Iacobucci was recognized as one of the Horizon League's top three hitters in a preseason poll of the league's coaches conducted by CollegeBaseballInsider.com. He was ranked as one of the top three pure hitters and the most under-rated hitter in the Horizon League. Iacobucci has batted .087 in the first six games after hitting .369 in 2010. Even more alarming, Iacobucci has struck out five times in 23 at bats. Last year, Iacobucci ranked as the 39th-hardest hitter in the nation to strike out with one for every 15.3 at bats.
A Close Look at Hitting
Youngstown State is hitting .160 as a team, but Coach Pasquale has been encouraged that the Penguins have been hitting the ball hard right at fielders. Statistics back up Pasquale's claim that YSU is getting unlucky. YSU's batting average on balls in play (which excludes home runs and strikeouts) is .207. Last season, it was .347. This year opponents have a BABIP of .356, which is just slightly down from .377 last year. The Penguins have hit just .128 this season, down from .315 in 2010.
Need Bullpen Improvement
While Youngstown State's bullpen has done a better job of throwing strikes than the rotation, opposing hitters have batted .395 against the group. The bullpen has yielded 25 earned runs in 18-1/3 innings and 32 hits in 81 at bats. Twelve of the 32 hits have gone for extra bases. Additionally, nine of the 11 runners that the bullpen has inherited have scored. The Penguins have been without two relief pitchers – Alex Frey and Ryan Krokos – who were expected to have big roles. Frey pitched in 23 games last season as YSU's lefty specialist, and Blake Aquadro has stepped into that role from his normal spot as a starter. Krokos was the 38th-ranked senior in Ohio last year.
Middle Innings Haven't Been Kind
Opponents have done a lot of their damage through the first six games in the middle three innings. In the fourth through sixth innings, YSU has been outscored 23-0. Opponents have fared particularly well in the sixth and seventh innings, outscoring the Penguins 26-1 combined and 12-0 in the sixth. No starting pitcher has thrown beyond the sixth inning yet this season.
Youngstown State will play a three-game series at Tennessee Tech starting on Friday, March 11. The teams will also play single games on March 12 and March 13.