The Youngstown State baseball team enters its 13th Horizon League Tournament as the No. 6 seed and will play the third seeded Valparaiso Crusaders on Wednesday at 4 p.m. Eastern at Kapco Park. A win would send the Penguins on to play the top seeded Wright State Raiders on Thursday evening, and a loss would put YSU in an elimination game Thursday morning against either Oakland or the hosting Milwaukee Panthers. All games in the tournament will be broadcast live on the Horizon League Network.
The Penguins finished the regular season with a 12-36 overall record and a 6-17 mark in Horizon League play. They were most recently swept by Valparaiso to conclude the regular season on Friday and Saturday at home. The Penguins lost 6-2 and 5-3 on Friday, and they dropped the regular-season finale 9-1. YSU went 1-5 against Valparaiso during the regular season, and it is 0-3 all-time against the Crusaders in the Horizon League Tournament.
A pair of Penguins earned postseason league honors with Alex Larivee and Kevin Yarabinec being named to the league's All-Freshman Team, and Larivee also earned second-team accolades. Senior Second baseman Phil Lipari hit .442 over the final 11 games of the regular season to bring his average to a team-high .294, and he also leads the Penguins in several other offensive categories. Matt Sullivan and he share the team lead with four home runs, and Sullivan has a team-best 28 RBIs. Larivee is the top base-stealer with seven.
Sophomore left-hander Jared Wight will start game one of the Horizon League Tournament for YSU, and he'll be followed by either senior right-hander Patrick O'Brien or freshman right-hander Jeremy Quinlan.
Wight went 1-3 with a 7.50 ERA during the regular season, but he allowed four earned runs over his final 10.1 innings and has pitched well in his career against the Crusaders. He pitched two scoreless innings against them last Friday, and he allowed one run in 3.2 innings last season. Wednesday will be his first career start in the postseason.
O'Brien finished the regular season with a 1-10 record and a 7.93 ERA. He started YSU's first game in the conference tournament last season. Quinlan was 0-2 during the regular season with a 6.33 ERA while making four starts.
- The Penguins have hit 11 home runs in a 12-game span from April 23 to May 13. They had five combined the other 36 games.
- The Penguins had two members on the Horizon League All-Freshman Team – Alex Larivee and Kevin Yarabinec.
- YSU has won two games in the Horizon League Tournament in two of the last three seasons.
- Phil Lipari's career-high four home runs are the most by a Penguins second baseman since Jeremy Banks hit six in 2004.
- YSU has not used the same batting order in any game this season.
- The Penguins are opening the tournament against the same team it ended the regular season with for the first time since 2005.
- This is the first time the league tournament has been held in Wisconsin.
Valparaiso went 23-26 overall and 12-12 in Horizon League play during the regular season to earn the third seed in the tournament. Valpo went 5-1 against the Penguins and was the only team to beat Wright State more than once.
The Crusaders posted the lowest team ERA in the conference at 3.96 behind Horizon League Co-Pitcher of the Year Dalton Lundeen. The staff also issued 39 fewer walks than any other team in the conference. Valpo will start senior right-hander Cole Webb (7-3, 3.95 ERA) against the Penguins. YSU scored five runs off of him in 11 innings in two regular-season meetings.
While Valparaiso has the best ERA in the league, it ranks last in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Michael Morman leads the club with a .304 batting average and 19 stolen bases, and Chris Manning is close behind at .295. Valpo hit .287 against YSU during the regular season.
Using Many Different Lineups
The Penguins have done plenty of shifting in their lineup throughout the season. YSU did not have the same batting order in any two games during the regular season.
During the regular season's 48 games, only Shane Willoughby started more than 20 games in the same spot in the batting order. Willoughby started 25 games as the ninth hitter. No player has started at least 10 games in the seventh or eighth spots.
The most consistent starting spot in the field was at shortstop with Willoughby starting 41 times. Phil Lipari made 36 starts at second base, and Matt Sullivan started at third 32 times.
Penguins Showing Power Potential
Youngstown State went on a power streak over the final five weeks of the regular season. The Penguins blasted 11 home runs in the 15 games from April 23 to the end of the season. The team had five home runs combined in the first 33 games of the season. Matt Sullivan nearly matched that over the final five weeks with four round trippers on his own.
In addition to Sullivan's four blasts – he had zero before April 23 – Brent Gillespie and Jake Fryman had two apiece over the last 15 games. David Saluga, Kevin Hix, and Phil Lipari had the other homers in the hot streak. Hix and Sullivan both hit grand slams.
Youngstown State had 13 home runs as a team in 57 games last season, and eight of those came from players who are not on this year's roster.
Seniors Have Had Success in League Tournament
Six of Youngstown State's 10 seniors have been part of two Penguins teams that have made runs in the Horizon League Tournament.
As the lowest seed in both 2011 and 2012, the Penguins won two games and were one victory away from reaching the championship round.
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 12-13 all-time in the conference tournament as the lower seed. In contrast, they are 1-8 as the favorite.
Yarabinec's Sub-2.00 ERA
Youngstown State freshman relief pitcher Kevin Yarabinec will enter the Horizon League Tournament with a 1.89 ERA. That's the third-best mark in the conference for players who made at least eight appearances.
It's been 14 years since the Penguins last had a pitcher with at least 15 appearances finish with an ERA under 2.00. The last YSU player with a sub-2.00 ERA was Mike Abdalla in 2000 when he had a 0.51 ERA in 16 appearances. Only Ryan Sellman (2006) and Josh Wells (2003) have had an ERA under 3.00 since 2000.
Lipari Solid in Senior Season
Youngstown State senior second baseman Phil Lipari ended his final regular season on a tear, hitting .442 over his final 11 games. He leads the Penguins in batting average (.294), runs (31), triples (3) and slugging percentage (.458). He's also tied for the top spot in home runs (4) and extra-base hits (14).
Lipari was very streaky during the regular season. He started out 1-for-17 and had a .059 batting average on March 2. He had 10 hits in 21 at bats (.476) to get his average up to .286 on March 19, but it dropped to .236 on April 27 before his hot streak to end the season.
Lipari has the most home runs in a season (4) by a Penguins second baseman since Justin Banks had six in 2004, and he needs to play in two games this week to reach 200 for his career.
Manuppelli Could Be an X-Factor
The Penguins are hopeful that arguably their most-talented arm, Nic Manuppelli, will be able to contribute in the Horizon League Tournament.
Manuppelli served as the Penguins' closer the past two seasons and moved into the rotation for 2014. He struggled in his first four starts of the season, but he was much better in his three conference starts in April when he registered a 2.65 ERA.
Manuppelli has pitched just one inning due to an arm injury since holding Oakland scoreless over six innings on April 19.
Solid Arms in Bullpen's Back End
Youngstown State has some strong arms at the back end of its bullpen, led by freshman Kevin Yarabinec. Yarabinec has a 1.89 ERA with four saves in 17 appearances. The right-hander has 21 strikeouts against 10 walks in 19 innings.
Senior Alex Frey, the primary lefty out of the bullpen, is having the best season of his career with a 3.44 ERA and 28 strikeouts in a team-high 24 appearances. Junior right-hander Josh North has a 5.70 ERA and boasts a 3-0 record, and junior righty Anthony Konders has a 4.44 ERA in his 16 relief appearances.
Roster Heavy on Newcomers and Seniors
Of the 35 players on Youngstown State's roster, 17 are newcomers. Nine of the 17 are freshmen, and eight are junior college transfers.
Of the 18 returners, 10 are seniors. Alex Frey is in his fifth year with the program, and Patrick O'Brien is in his fifth year overall after transferring from Bowling Green. Four more are in their fourth year with the program, and four are in their second season at YSU.