By Steve Wilaj
Maybe it’s the chilly weather, but for the past two days, the Youngstown State bats have taken a little while to get going.
How long? Approximately two hours and 18 outs.
However, once the seventh inning comes around, UIC has learned to watch out.
The Penguins scored seven runs in the seventh inning in the second straight game. The outburst wasn’t enough in a loss on Friday, but the seven-spot led YSU to 12-7 victory on Saturday at Eastwood Field.
“Our guys were in [the dugout] talking about kicking the extra point,” YSU coach Steve Gillispie said. “It was just a product of adjusting to what the pitcher was doing earlier and our guys adjusted to how they were being attacked.”
The Penguins (12-27, 7-7 Horizon League) entered the bottom of the seventh with a 5-3 lead. Run-scoring singles by Josh White and Nick Dinello extended the lead to 7-3, while a Phil Lipari fielder’s choice made it 8-3. But the big inning was keyed by Marcus Heath’s three-run double.
“Coach tells us he wants us to get going earlier, right out of the gate,” said YSU outfielder Jason Shirley. “But the last two games, it’s just baseball. We ended up getting going in the seventh. It’s ironic.”
The number seven was good for the Penguins in another way as well. Starting pitcher Patrick O’Brien pitched seven strong innings, allowing three runs on six hits.
“He kept competing and located his fastball real well,” Gillispie said. “The last two innings his slider wasn’t as good as it was early on, but he still was able to throw his fastball to both sides of the plate.”
O’Brien (3-4, 3.80 ERA) said his fastball location was the key to his success.
“My slider was on and off, so I located my fastball,” he said. “I didn’t leave my fastball up once, which worked out well for me.”
Drew Dosch led the Penguins with four hits, while White, Lipari and Shirley each had two hits as well. UIC (18-17, 7-7) was led by John Coen, Tyler Detmer and Jacob McNamara, each with two hits. Joey Begel (0-2) suffered the loss for the Flames.
With the win, YSU moves into a second-place tie with the Flames in the Horizon League standings.
“It’s all about confidence and we needed a win big win so we can set ourselves up to get the series tomorrow,” O’Brien said.
YSU will send starting pitcher Lance Horner (0-1, 3.33) to the mound in the series finale today.
“We didn’t go too deep in our bullpen either of the first two games and Lance Horner has given us an outstanding effort each of the last two Sundays,” Gillispie said. “So we feel pretty good about our chances. We’ll see what happens, but I’m gonna bet on the Penguins.”
Shirley stressed the importance of winning the rubber match, which will begin at 12:10 p.m.
“Coach always talks about Sundays are the days you win the championship,” he said. “It’d be nice to end the week setting us up at the top of the division.”