Early in the season, the Youngstown State University baseball team desperately wanted to take a step forward and get off to a good start.
It didn’t happen, as the Penguins were 3-16 a month in.
It was then that first-year head coach Steve Gillispie realized his team needed to do something else.
“I think everybody just had to settle in and take a deep breath after a coaching change,” he said.
After doing just that, Gillispie and YSU have been breathing easier — and winning.
Since falling to the University of Pittsburgh, 16-1, on March 10, the Penguins are 4-3. They are coming off their first series win of the season, taking two of three games at conference foe Wright State University over the weekend.
“It’s always big to get a conference win, especially on the road,” said junior outfielder Mike Accardi. “Talking to the guys, a lot of them never beat Wright State at their place. So, it was really good to get that first series win. Everybody’s really pumped about it and excited.”
On Thursday, YSU routed the Raiders, 10-1, behind Accardi’s three hits and a strong outing from starting pitcher Blake Aquadro (seven innings, one earned run).
After a 5-3 loss on Friday, the Penguins bounced back for a 7-4 victory on Saturday. Marcus Heath hit two homeruns, while starting pitcher Patrick O’Brien went 6.2 innings and allowed three runs.
“[It’s] the important parts of the game — pitching and defense — that keep you in it and win it; we did particularly well,” Gillispie said. “We didn’t give up many runs because we played good defense. We ran some balls down in the outfield and turned a couple double plays. Offensively, we hit with some power, which we hadn’t done much of.”
Heath was particularly effective over the weekend, batting .333 and earning Horizon League Hitter of the Week honors. Second baseman Neil Schroth also had an exceptionally strong weekend, collecting six hits in the series.
“Everything went well,” Accardi said. “We didn’t boot the ball around a lot. We played pretty solid defensively and got some timely hits when we needed them. Just everybody contributing really paid off for us.”
While Gillispie said he was pleased with YSU’s progression coming off a victory at Ohio University on March 19, he’s happy to see the upward trend continue.
“I thought this weekend was probably the most sustained effort, and hopefully that is a sign of us getting better,” he said.
This week could go a long way in finding out.
On Tuesday, the Penguins will travel to Ohio State University to play the Buckeyes (16-8). They will then travel back to Youngstown to begin a home stretch that will carry through Sunday.
“Ohio State is a great opportunity to play an in-state rival,” Accardi said. “We really wanted to play them and got our opportunity.”
Believe it or not, when YSU hosts the University of Akron on Wednesday at Eastwood Field in Niles, it will be the team’s first home game of the season.
“There’s not a whole lot you can do about it,” Gillispie said. “You have to sort of take what you are given, and our kids did a great job of staying with the program and staying with the game plan to move forward.”
The previously scheduled home-opening series against Chicago State University on March 22-24 was rained out.
“Everybody was a little down, but we just kept working at it,” Accardi said. “We have a big home weekend series coming up against [the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee], so we’re real pumped about that.”
Indeed they do, as the Panthers (11-11, 7-2) will enter Eastwood Field as first place in the Horizon League. The three-game series will stretch from Friday to Sunday.
All signs point toward the weather cooperating.
“It’s a big weekend as far as us trying to climb a little closer to them in first place,” Gillispie said. “I think it all blends together for what should be a great weekend and should be good baseball for everybody to watch.”