The Youngstown State baseball team will try to capture some Eastwood Field magic and make a postseason run as it serves as the host for the 2013 Horizon League Baseball Championship this week.
The Penguins enter the tournament as the fifth seed and will play fourth-seeded Wright State in the first game of the week on Wednesday at 3 p.m. If YSU can beat the Raiders, it will advance to play top-seeded Milwaukee on Thursday at 3 p.m. A Penguins loss in game one will result in an elimination game Thursday at 7 p.m.
YSU will be in a familiar – and arguably comfortable – spot as the underdog in every game it will play during the tournament. As the lowest seed in each of the past two tournaments, the Penguins won their first game and ended up one win from reaching the championship round. YSU eliminated Wright State to reach the losers bracket final in the 2012 tournament that was held in Chicago.
The Penguins split their six meetings with Wright State this season with each team going 2-1 on the road. YSU went 2-4 against both Milwaukee and UIC and was 1-5 versus Valparaiso during the regular season.
Youngstown State comes into the tournament looking to turn the page from the regular season in which it went 2-13 over the final four weeks. The Penguins are 1-10 in May, and they ended up on the short end of nine of their final 10 conference contests. YSU was 7-7 in Horizon League play following a 12-7 win over UIC on April 20. The Penguins' beat Wright State on May 5 to make their record 8-10, and they dropped their final six games on the road to Milwaukee and Valparaiso.
Junior right-hander Patrick O'Brien will take the mound for Youngstown State in the opener, making his first career start in the Horizon League Tournament. O'Brien finished the regular season 3-7 with a 5.02 ERA and an impressive ratio of 50 strikeouts to 18 walks in 84.1 innings. O'Brien was 0-1 with a 4.60 ERA against the Raiders during the regular season.
Scouting Wright State: Wright State is the No. 4 seed after finishing the season 22-28 overall and 9-12 in Horizon League play. The Raiders went 5-10 over the final month of the regular season with two of those victories coming at Eastwood Field on May 3 and May 4. Right-hander Casey Henn is the reigning Horizon League Pitcher of the Week, and he was 4-7 with a 3.49 ERA and a league-high 77 strikeouts during the season. Wright State led the league with 24 home runs while ranking second in batting average and slugging percentage.
YSU Used to Underdog Role: YSU will be in a familiar and comfortable spot in the Horizon League Tournament as an underdog. The Penguins are 12-11 all-time in the conference tournament as the lower seed. In contrast, they are 1-8 as the favorite. The Penguins have never been the fifth seed in their previous 10 Horizon League Tournaments. YSU was seventh, which was then the lowest seed in the tournament, when it swept through the field in 2004 to win the championship.
Tournament Runs: Youngstown State has played some of its best baseball over the past two seasons in the Horizon League Tournament. As the lowest seed in each of the past two tournaments, the Penguins were one win away from reaching the championship round. They've followed the same script in each of the past two tournaments, beating the third seed, losing to the top seed, eliminating the second seed and bowing out of the tournament with a loss to the fourth seed.
Last Week vs. Valparaiso: Youngstown State was swept at Valparaiso in the final weekend of the regular season, losing 4-1, 7-4 and 3-2. The Penguins had five more hits than the Crusaders in both the opener and the finale. The Penguins stranded 11 runners in the 4-1 loss on Thursday, and four of their first eight outs occurred when runners were thrown out on the bases. YSU then stranded 13 runners and hit into three double plays, including one to end the game with the bases loaded, in the 3-2 loss on Saturday. The Penguins hit .311 as a team, and Mike Accardi (.455), Neil Schroth (.417) and Nick DiNello (.417) all hit above .400.