Youngstown -- The Youngstown State baseball team will play its closest-to-home games of the season when it plays four contests at the Petersen Sports Complex Panther Classic on the University of Pittsburgh's campus this weekend.
YSU will play Toledo twice during the weekend, on Friday at 3 p.m. and Sunday at noon. On Saturday, the Penguins will play host Pitt at noon and Niagara at 3 p.m. All games will be played at Charles L. Cost Field.
The Penguins enter this weekend 1-12 after falling 14-5 to Xavier on Wednesday. Toledo enters the tournament with a 4-10 mark, while Pittsburgh is 8-5 and Niagara is 2-14.
Robert Switka will start on the mound in YSU's opener against Toledo on Friday. Blake Aquadro will make his first start of the season against Pitt in Saturday's first game, and Kevin McCulloh will pitch against Niagara. Phil Klein will start on the mound on Sunday against Toledo.
About the Pitchers
Game-one starter Robert Switka has appeared in five previous games, four of which he's started. Swikta is 0-3 with an 11.25 ERA with 12 strikeouts and 12 walks in 16 innings. He made his lone relief appearance of the season on Wednesday at Xavier, allowing one run on three hits and two strikeouts in 0.2 innings.
Game-two hurler Blake Aquadro started 12 games last year, but he's pitched exclusively out of the bullpen in 2011. Aquadro has pitched in seven games and has an ERA of 14.29 in 11.1 innings.
YSU's best starter through the first four weeks, Kevin McCulloh, will start the third game of the weekend against Niagara. McCulloh is 1-2 with a team-best 4.15 ERA in 21.2 innings. He has struck out 21 hitters and walked 12 in 21.2 innings of work.
Phil Klein, Sunday's projected starter against Toledo, will be making his fifth start of the year. He is 0-3 with a 9.17 ERA, 19 strikeouts and 11 walks in 17.2 innings.
Toledo is 4-10 for the year after losing its last four games in Winter Haven, Fla. The Rockets have beaten Louisville twice, Yale and Samford. The Rockets are hitting .220 and averaging 3.5 runs per game as a team, and Chris Dudics' .281 clip is the best among Toledo's regular starters. The Rockets have a team ERA of 4.07, and opponents are hitting .259 off their staff. Toledo pitchers have 91 strikeouts and 49 walks in 119.1 innings. Toledo went 34-22 in 2010.
Pittsburgh is 8-5 overall despite losing its last three games. The Panthers dropped their home opener, and the first game played at Cost Field, 9-7 to Kent State on Wednesday. Pitt is batting .306 and averaging 6.8 runs per game as a team, and six of its starters are hitting at least .333. Senior catcher Kevan Smith leads Pitt with a .462 batting average, 13 runs scored and two home runs. The Panthers' pitchers have a combined ERA of 3.50, and opponents are hitting .267 off of them. Pitt's staff has struck out 95 batters and walked 40 in 113 innings.
Niagara has gone 2-14 to start the season and has lost its last seven games. The Purple Eagles' wins have come at Virginia Tech and at George Mason. Niagara is hitting .237 as a team and averaging 3.3 runs per game, and junior outfielder Adam Wagner is the only regular to hit above .285 at .327. The Purple Eagles have a team ERA of 8.29, and opponents are batting .331 against them. Niagara's pitchers have struck out 66 batters and walked 65 in 126 innings. Freshman righty Drew Fittry is scheduled to start against YSU. He has gone 2-1 with a 5.60 ERA in four appearances, including three starts. Fittry has held opponents to a .238 average, but he has walked 11 and struck out just four in17.2 innings.
Bats Have Been Getting Better
Youngstown State has been performing better at the plate over the last four games. The Penguins are hitting .244 and averaging 5.5 runs dating back to March 12 at Tennessee Tech. Prior to that, YSU had been shut out five times in the first nine games of the season and was hitting .156 as a squad. Over the last four games, four starters have hit over .300. Infielder Phil Lipari has hit a team-best .417 in the last four contests, and catcher Jonathan Crist is hitting .400 over the same span. First baseman Jeremy Banks is batting .353 and has driven in five runs, and outfielder Neil Schroth is hitting .313 with four runs scored.
Brotherly Love in Opposite Dugouts
The Youngstown State vs. Pittsburgh contest on Saturday could also be called the Battle of the Lipari Brothers. YSU's pitching coach is Dan Lipari, who is the younger brother of Pitt pitching coach Tom Lipari. The brothers were both on YSU's staff last season, but Tom Lipari took the job at Pittsburgh in the offseason. Dan Lipari was promoted from volunteer assistant to pitching coach as a result. Tom Lipari served as YSU's pitching coach and recruiting coordinator in 2009 and 2010. YSU has another Lipari, freshman infielder Phil Lipari, but he is not related to the coaches. In another coaching tie, YSU head coach Rich Pasquale served as an assistant coach at Pittsburgh for current Panthers' coach Joe Jordano from 2000-02.
Iacobucci Approaching 200 Hits
Youngstown State senior Joe Iacobucci has gotten off to a slow start at the plate in 2011, but he is nearing 200 career hits. Iacobucci has 191 hits and needs nine more to become the eighth player in school history to record 200 hits. Iacobucci recorded 65 hits as a redshirt freshman in 2008, 41 in 2009 and 79 in 2010. Other players in school history to record 200 career hits are: Kendall Schlabach 265 (2001-04), Erich Diedrich 252 (2005-08), Justin Banks 249 (2003-06), Brandon Caipen 247 (2003-06), John Koehnlein 245 (2006-09), Charles Schultz 219 (2003-06) and Todd Santore 202 (1998-2001).
Few Pitching Options
YSU only has 13 pitchers on its roster for 2011, and four of those have been inactive thus far. Phil Klein and Cody Dearth are the only upperclassmen on the staff, and Dearth and Aquadro are the only active southpaws. Among those that are inactive, Patrick O'Brien is sitting out the season to fulfill NCAA transfer requirements. Alex Frey, Bill Turosky and Ryan Krokos are all out with injuries. Frey and Turosky are both sophomore left-handers who pitched in 23 games apiece in 2010. Krokos is a freshman right-hander.
Home Runs Way Down
With new bat standards that the NCAA adopted, along with the departures of several power hitters from last year's team, YSU expected to hit fewer home runs than in 2010. The Penguins have hit just one home run in the first 13 games. Interestingly, that round-tripper came in YSU's first at bat of the season when leadoff hitter David Leon homered on the second pitch he saw. Through 13 games last season, YSU had hit 18 homers. The Penguins hit 60 home runs in all in 2010, which was a school record. Official stats from the NCAA have not been published yet, but power is believed to be down throughout the country.
Defense Has Been Strong Point
Youngstown State's best area of play through the first 13 games has been its defense. YSU's fielding percentage is .970, which is tied-for-second in the Horizon League. Butler holds the top mark at .971, and Wright State is at .970. The Penguins have committed just two errors in the last eight games after posting 11 in the first five contests of the season. YSU's fielding percentage last season was .957.\
Youngstown State is scheduled to play its home opener on Wednesday, March 23, against Penn State-Behrend. First pitch at Eastwood Field is set for 3 p.m.