By Joe Catullo Jr.
Baseball America recognized two Youngstown State players before the season got under way.
Third baseman Drew Dosch was named the Horizon League Preseason Player of the Year, and pitcher Nic Manuppelli was voted as the league’s third-best professional prospect.
None of those accolades will matter when the Penguins trot on the baseball diamond. Dosch said putting the accolades to the side “comes naturally.”
“Nothing outside of that game or that at-bat matters once you step between the lines,” he said. “Once the first pitch is thrown then you put everything, all the hype and accolades, behind. Once the first pitch is thrown, you got to go out there and prove it every single day.”
The Penguins open their season on Friday at Samford after coming off one of the worst seasons in the program’s history. YSU finished 11-44 overall (7-23 in the conference) last season and finished last, though they went 2-2 in the HL tournament.
Former coach Rich Pasquale was relieved of his duties after coaching five seasons at YSU. On July 10, Steve Gillispie took over after 11 seasons as the top assistant coach with Jacksonville State in the Ohio Valley Conference.
Gillispie said his philosophy is to take small steps forward.
“Go a game at a time, [and] a pitch at a time,” he said. “Then we’ll add it up and see where we’re at in three months from now. Right now we just have to take small steps and see how good we can become.”
Gillispie brought in a new coaching staff that includes former Cleveland Indians pitcher Jason Stanford as pitching coach, associate head coach Kevin Smallcomb and assistant coach Jason Neal. Gillispie also appointed Jeremy Banks as the student assistant.
Banks was named first-team All-Horizon League as a designated hitter and led the league with a .385 batting average, .466 on-base percentage and .578 slugging percentage.
Dosch said there’s no difference with Banks as a coach.
“He still has a lot of fun, joking around with us at practice or whatever,” Dosch said. “But when it came down to it and it was time to work, it was time to work and that’s what he brings to the coaching staff as well.”
Dosch, a first-team All-Horizon League selection last year, batted .353 with eight home runs and 42 RBIs. Gillispie did not have a lineup card on hand, but said Dosch is the team’s No. 3 hitter.
“He’s such a quality player and a quality kid,” Gillispie said. “He’s the entire package that anyone would want to have coaching college baseball. I think he’s hitting third. I couldn’t imagine another scenario where he wouldn’t hit towards the top.”
Southpaw Blake Aquadro is the Penguins’ opening-day starter. He tied the school single-season record with 15 starts last year and was named to the All-Tournament Team.
Beginning on Friday, YSU plays its first 21 games on the road, and Gillispie embraces the opportunity.
“The bus becoming that second home, that’s not always an attractive place. But I think with the newness and everything and the energy, guys will be able to handle it just fine,” he said.