With finals week and academic commitments in the rear-view mirror, the Youngstown State baseball team can concentrate its full attention on keeping its hot streak alive when it hosts Wright State in a three-game series this weekend. Game one between the Penguins and Raiders is set for Friday at 3 p.m., and the teams will also play Saturday at 1 p.m. and Sunday at noon. Live stats will be available through YSUsports.com, and live video will be available on the Horizon League Network. Seniors Jeremy Banks and David Leon will be honored prior to Sunday's contest in what will be their final Horizon League games at home.
On the Mound
For the first time in four weeks, Youngstown State is set to have a different starting rotation. Freshman right-hander Russ Harless will be the game-one starter for the fourth consecutive week, and junior left-hander Blake Aquadro will move from starting game three to starting on Saturday. YSU head coach Rich Pasquale has not announced Sunday's starter. Ryan Krokos has served as a conference starter each of the past three weeks.
Harless has won each of his last two starts and has lowered his ERA by a run over his last three starts. Dating back to April 21, Harless has surrendered six earned runs in 20 innings while allowing 16 hits. He allowed three runs on six hits in six innings last week in a win over Butler, and he allowed two runs in six innings the week prior to beat UIC. The freshman has a 41-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 4.58 ERA in 57 innings. Harless leads all Horizon League freshmen with 41 strikeouts while ranking second with 57 innings.
Aquadro will be making his team and Horizon League-leading 12th start. The junior left-hander also ranks eighth in the conference in innings pitched with 68 2-3. Like Harless, Aquadro has also won back-to-back starts. He beat Butler last Sunday despite allowing five runs in five innings. The week prior, he pitched YSU's first nine-inning shutout in eight years when he blanked UIC. That performance earned him Horizon League Pitcher-of-the-Week honors.
Scouting Wright State
Wright State owns the top spot in the Horizon League standings with a 33-16 overall mark and a 17-7 record in conference games. The Raiders received votes in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches' Poll earlier in the season, but they lost two of three at home to Valparaiso last weekend. The Raiders are the best offensive team in the conference statistically by a large margin. They are batting .314 and slugging .448 as a team and have scored 39 more runs than any other conference squad. Wright State is hitting .343 with 20 home runs in 24 conference games. Senior outfielder Ryan Ashe is batting .390 overall and .455 in Horizon League play, and reigning conference player of the week Garrett Gray is hitting .450 in league play. First baseman Jake Hibberd has a team-high eight home runs. Taylor Braun (5-1, 3.86 ERA), Andrew Elliott (1-0, 2.85 ERA) and Cody Kopilchack (4-4, 5.23 ERA) are Wright State's scheduled starting pitchers. Closer Michael Schum has 11 saves.
Last Time vs. Wright State
Youngstown State was swept by Wright State earlier this season in Dayton. The Raiders outscored the Penguins 58-8 in the three games, beating them 32-4, 18-2 and 8-2.
Rough Stretch to End Year
The Penguins close out the regular season by playing the top two teams in the Horizon League. They play Wright State this weekend and Valparaiso next weekend. Both teams are tied atop the standings with 17-7 records.
Last Six Games vs. First 38
Two weeks ago, Youngstown State was staring at a 4-34 record, a 13-game losing streak and the threat of not winning a game in April. The Penguins swept UIC to end April and continued their improved play at Butler last weekend by beating the Bulldogs twice in three tries. YSU has been vastly better in all facets of the game over its last six games compared to its first 38. The Penguins are hitting .340 collectively over the last six games, which is almost 100 points higher than their .249 average through the first 38 contests. That has led to an average of 8.67 runs, an increase from 3.82 per game. YSU's pitchers have a 4.92 ERA over the last six games, which is drastically improved from the 7.91 over the first 38 contests.
Line-Up Switch Paying Dividends
YSU head coach Rich Pasquale switched up the line-up over the last six games, and it is paying off. David Leon, Phil Lipari, Drew Dosch and Jeremy Banks occupy the top four spots, and Jason Shirley has solidified the bottom half from the seventh position. Lipari is batting .409 since the switch, and Shirley is hitting .520 with five doubles, eight runs and five RBIs.
Banks Continues Banner Senior Year
Jeremy Banks continues to lead YSU in many hitting categories despite missing 14 games with a shoulder injury. He has hit .619 over the last six games to raise his batting average to .417. That average, along with his .652 slugging percentage and .511 on-base percentage, would lead the Horizon League if he met the minimum number of games played and at bats. He ranks sixth in the conference in doubles (12) and homers (5), seventh in RBIs (36) and eighth in total bases (75) and walks (22). He eclipsed 200 career hits his last home game on April 29, and his total currently sits at 206. That is the 10th-most in school history. Banks has been named Horizon League Batter of the Week three times this season.
Dosch Earns Academic All-District Honors
Drew Dosch was named First-Team Academic All-District on May 3 and continues to show that he is perhaps the most improved player in the Horizon League. As a 4.0 education major, he is batting .361 as a sophomore, 99 points higher than his freshman year. Dosch needs just 11 hits to double his freshman year total. His .517 slugging percentage is nearly double his .269 mark last season, and he has 13 more extra-base hits. Dosch has reached base in 41 of YSU's 44 games. He ranks third in the Horizon League in batting average and home runs, fourth in hits and total bases, fifth in slugging percentage, and eighth in on-base percentage.
Youngstown State will wrap up its home schedule on Tuesday with a special Kids Day game against Pittsburgh. First pitch is set for 11 a.m.