The Youngstown State baseball team will play its first ranked opponent in two years when it travels to the College of Charleston for a three-game series this weekend. The Penguins and Cougars will play the opener on Friday at 5 p.m. at the Ballpark at Patriots Point. The games on Saturday and Sunday are both slated for 1 p.m. YSU was swept in a three-game series at East Carolina last weekend. The Penguins were shutout in the final two contests and haven't scored in 18 innings. The Cougars are ranked 19th nationally by Baseball America and are 4-0 for the season.
On the Mound
The Penguins will keep the same rotation as last weekend with Phil Klein throwing game one, Kevin McCulloh throwing game two and Robert Switka pitching the finale. Klein and Switka both allowed four earned runs in four innings in their outings at East Carolina. McCulloh was outstanding in his debut, holding the Pirates scoreless over six innings. He is the reigning Horizon League Pitcher of the Week.
Scouting College of Charleston
The College of Charleston is ranked in the top 25 by Baseball America (19th) and the NCBWA (25th). The Cougars have started the season 4-0 and are coming off a 44-win season in which they advanced to the NCAA Regionals. CofC was picked to win the SoCon almost unanimously, and senior outfielder Cole Rakar was picked as the preseason player of the year. YSU is 1-7 all time against Charleston with all eight contests being played from 1999 to 2002.
Guins vs. Ranked Teams
Youngstown State's last victory over a ranked opponent was a doubleheader sweep of No. 29 Oral Roberts on April 18, 1999. The Penguins did not play any ranked teams last season, but they faced two in 2009. YSU opened the season at No. 14 Georgia and played Kent State three times when it was ranked in the top 25.
McCulloh Named HL Pitcher of the Week
YSU sophomore pitcher Kevin McCulloh is the reigning Horizon League Pitcher of the Week. A Youngstown, he held East Carolina scoreless over six innings on Feb. 19 in his third career start. He allowed just three hits and four walks while striking out seven. He worked out of two jams in the contest. ECU had a first-and-third with nobody out situation in the second and had the bases loaded with one out in the sixth.
Leon Solid at Plate in Return
Junior shortstop David Leon had a solid first weekend in his return from a redshirt season. Leon, batting leadoff, homered in his first at bat of the season. He also drove in a run in the ninth in the season opener. Leon is batting .231 and slugging a team-best .462. He was a second-team all-Horizon League selection as a sophomore second baseman.
Two Do Double Duty
Two Youngstown State infielders also made appearances on the mound last weekend at East Carolina. Sophomore second baseman Padraic Williams threw two scoreless innings of relief in the series finale. Freshman third baseman Drew Dosch followed Williams by throwing a scoreless eighth inning.
Pasquale Enters Fourth Season
Youngstown State head baseball coach Rich Pasquale is entering his fourth season at the helm of the Penguins. Of the 26 players on this year's roster, Pasquale has been responsible for bringing in 22 of them. Only fifth-year senior Joe Iacobucci has had another skipper on the bench – Mike Florak in 2007 when Iacobucci redshirted. Florak also recruited seniors Phil Klein and Cody Dearth and redshirt junior David Leon.
2010 Among Best Offensive Seasons in School History
YSU's 2010 squad, led by a large group of seniors, was perhaps the top offensive team in school history. The club set new school records with 609 hits, 60 home runs, 380 RBIs, 417 runs, 115 doubles, 920 total bases and a .460 slugging percentage. The team's 7.4 runs per contest ranked second to only the 7.5 runs per game scored by the 1964 squad.
Returners on Offense
Of the nine regular starters on offense on last year's team, only two return in 2011. Left-handed sluggers Joe Iacobucci and Jeremy Banks have plenty of talent to headline the line-up, but they'll need help from a new group of contributors. Iacobucci hit .369 with 10 home runs, 18 doubles, 46 runs scored and 52 RBIs in 2010 in what was the best season of his career. Banks, a junior, batted .313 with five home runs, 12 doubles and 37 RBIs last year.
Young Pitching Staff
Seniors Phil Klein and Cody Dearth are the only two upperclassmen on the pitching staff this season. The rest of the staff is comprised of three freshmen and six sophomores. Four of those sophomores got plenty of experience last season, though. Kevin McCulloh pitched in 28 games, the most ever by a YSU freshman, and his 52.2 innings on the mound were the fourth-most on the team. Blake Aquadro started 12 games and pitched in 58.1 innings. Alex Frey threw in 23 games as primarily a lefty-specialist, and Bill Turosky made 19 relief appearances and four midweek starts.
Schedule is Road Heavy
As usual, the Penguins' schedule is loaded with road games early in the season. YSU begins the season on Friday with a three-game series at East Carolina. The Penguins will play 14 more road games before their home opener on March 23 against Penn State-Behrend. YSU will host a Kids Day in conjunction with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers for its game against Akron on May 18 at 11 a.m. The Penguins will also play at Miller Park, the home of the Brewers, against Milwaukee on April 29. The Horizon League tournament is scheduled for May 25-29 at Wright State.
Guins Picked to Finish Fifth
YSU has been picked to finish fifth in the Horizon League in 2011 in a preseason poll of the league's head coaches. Defending regular-season champion Wright State was chosen as the preseason favorite, receiving three first-place votes and 32 points. Tournament champion Milwaukee received 31 points to place second. UIC was picked to finish third with 27 points, and Valparaiso was slated to finish fourth with 24 points. YSU and Butler each received 13 points to finish in a tie-for-fifth, and Cleveland State was picked to finish seventh with seven points.
Youngstown State remains on the road to play a three-game series at Cincinnati March 4-6.