The Youngstown State baseball team opens up the 2011 campaign with a three-game series at East Carolina this weekend. The Penguins and Pirates will play at 3 p.m. Friday in the season opener, then at 2 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday. YSU returns just two regular starters in the line-up, and there are two new pitchers in the weekend rotation. Joe Iacobucci (OF) and Jeremy Banks (1B) are the top returning hitters, and David Leon (SS) returns after a redshirt season. Phil Klein is the lone returning starter in the rotation. East Carolina was 32-27 last season.
On the Mound
Senior right-hander Phil Klein assumes the role as the Penguins' clear No. 1 starter. He was a First-Team All-Horizon League pitcher in 2009 when he was 5-2 with a 4.62 ERA and 80 strikeouts in 76 innings. He'll be followed by Kevin McCulloh on Saturday and Robert Switka on Sunday. McCulloh pitched in 28 games last season but started just twice. Switka hasn't pitched in a game since he was a high school senior in 2008.
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 record-setting 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. Of the remaining returners, senior outfielder Armani Johnson started 28 games and senior first baseman/designated hitter Greg Dissinger started 20. Junior David Leon should give an immediate lift as he returns from a redshirt season. He started 101 games in the middle infield his first two seasons.
Stepping in for Clayton, Healey
The two biggest voids in the line-up will be from the departures of outfielder Tom Clayton and shortstop Jacke Healey. Clayton became YSU's first conference player of the year in 56 seasons of baseball. Clayton batted .412 with 45 runs scored, 17 doubles, 10 home runs, 47 RBIs and a league-high .700 slugging percentage. Healey set school season records in home runs (12), runs scored (63) and RBIs (59). He was drafted by the Houston Astros in the 27th round.
New Bat Standard May Affect Offense
The Penguins and their opponents will be swinging a different type of bat this season that could cut down the offense in games. The NCAA adopted a new "Ball-Bat Coefficient of Restitution" standard that was put into effect on Jan. 1, 2011. The goal is for the bats to perform similarly to wood bats.
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 – second to only ace Aaron Swenson – 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.
Klein Hopes to Regain 2009 Form
Senior Phil Klein will be looking to at least repeat the success he had in 2009 as a first-team All-Horizon League pitcher. That season, Klein was 5-2 with a 4.62 ERA and led all league starters with 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings. Last year he was 2-4 with a 6.51 ERA. His strikeout rate dipped to 7.9 per nine innings, and opposing batters hit .321 against him – up from .247 in 2009.
No More Swenson, Marzec
The Penguins will have a new No. 1 starter and a new closer for the first time in three seasons. Aaron Swenson was top starter since his sophomore season when he was named the Horizon League Pitcher of the Year. Klein will enter the season as the new No. 1. Marzec saved nine games the past three seasons. He was drafted as a relief pitcher by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 30th round last year.
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 will travel to the College of Charleston for a three-game series against the Cougars. Game one of the set is scheduled for Feb. 25 at 5 p.m.