By Joe Catullo
Nine outs stood between Youngstown State and a victory over conference-leading Milwaukee on Friday at Eastwood Field.
The defense had kept the ball in front of them, the offense was producing and Blake Aquadro kept throwing strike after strike, mixing his fastball with a good curveball.
Then the top of the seventh inning began, and that’s when everything YSU did right took a turn for the worse. The result was a 14-4 defeat.
“We did a good job for six, seven innings,” YSU coach Steve Gillispie said. “Those things that you can’t do in a game, we did. They were trying to do their best, but we just didn’t play very smart baseball from the seventh inning on.”
The Panthers (12-12, 8-2 Horizon League) scored 13 of their 14 runs in the final three frames. A dropped ball in right field, a missed tag at first base while a Panther attempted a sacrifice bunt, a throwing error after another sacrifice attempt and more mistakes were mixed into the collapse.
“I think we just put too much pressure on ourselves,” Phil Lipari said. “It’s just one thing didn’t go our way, couple of other things went their way and they just kept tallying on. First six innings, we were right there. We’ve got to figure out a way to just close it out.”
The majority of the blunders occurred in the top of the eighth inning, and Milwaukee capitalized with six runs. The Panthers also scored three in the seventh and four in the ninth.
“The game of baseball can be unforgiving,” Gillispie said. “When you give teams extra outs, it’ll come back to bite you. If the team’s trying to bunt and you don’t get an out, you’re asking for a big inning.”
Jake Long (4-2) started for the Panthers and went into the game with a 26-inning scoreless streak. YSU (7-21, 3-4) collected two runs off him in the first inning and two more on Nick Dinello’s home run in the sixth. Long pitched seven innings overall, allowed six hits, two walks, four runs (two earned) and struck out five.
“I think that part of the ball game we were very good at, but once we did get the lead, we didn’t do a good job of adding and extending the lead,” Gillispie said. “We gave him a couple of quick innings that maybe allowed his pitch count to stay down to where they didn’t have to go to the bullpen.”
Aquadro (2-4) also pitched seven innings and allowed five runs on nine hits, walked three and struck out two. Erik Okleson relieved him and allowed nine runs (three earned) on eight hits in two innings.
Gillispie said he was pleased with Aquadro’s performance.
“He’s been a guy that’s been able to pitch all of his pitches,” Gillispie said. “He can definitely throw the breaking ball for a strike, and they changed their approach. He probably deserved a better fate than that, but that’s the game.”
The Penguins will face Milwaukee again today (1 p.m. at Eastwood Field) in game two of the three-game series.