By Greg Gulas
The Youngstown State baseball team has had just two winning seasons since 1997 and just six such seasons in the last 25 years.
Newly hired Penguins coach Steve Gillispie has experienced just two losing seasons over the past 11 years as an assistant coach.
He calls his new team a sleeping giant and is anxious to return a once-proud program to its glory years of the 1960s and 1970s.
While speaking to the Curbstone Coaches at their weekly Monday meeting, Gillispie said he feels the timing is right to re-establish YSU’s winning ways.
“I think that you have to look at the baseline at establishing a winning program, which includes, but is not limited to excellent facilities, adequate resources, good administrative personnel and a game-day coaching staff that can both develop and recruit talent,” he said. “I feel like we have all of those components in place so that good things can happen.”
Most recently, Gillispie served as Jacksonville State’s hitting coach and recruiting coordinator. He helped the Gamecocks to nine 30-win seasons and a 152-79 mark in the Ohio Valley Conference.
More impressive is that since joining the OVC in 2004, JSU won either the regular season or tournament title five times during that span.
Gillispie inherits a team that went just 7-23 in the Horizon league last season.
“We won’t concede the Horizon League championship to anyone without the first pitch even being thrown,” he said. “When change happens a third of the players are happy, another third doesn’t embrace the switch while the other third is indifferent,” Gillispie said. “This group of players has done everything we’ve asked of them thus far and they had an excellent fall season. We’re farther along with getting everything into place than I had originally anticipated.”
Gillispie and his staff inherited 26 players, adding nine recruits from their first recruiting class to comprise their current 35-man roster.
Five seniors — pitchers Pat Shedlock, Joey Gajda, Blake Aquadro, Erik Okleson and Kevin McCulloh — are expected to provide the necessary leadership.
Senior catcher Jake Kucek — the son of Newton Falls native and former major league pitcher Jack Kucek — could be granted a medical redshirt after going through offseason rotator cuff surgery.
Gillispie’s staff includes holdover Craig Antush and newcomers Kevin Smallcomb, Jason Neal and former Cleveland Indians pitcher Jason Stanford, who will serve as pitching coach.
The Penguins’ schedule includes home games against Big 12 foe West Virginia, Big East opponent Pitt and Mid-American Conference and 2012 College World Series participant, Kent State.
They will open their season on Feb. 15 at Samford University, taking on a Bulldogs squad that made it to the regional finals last season.
“In accordance with NCAA rules, we can start practices today by working with small groups while giving limited instruction,” Gillispie said. “That will continue over the next two weeks. We want to get our arms in shape and our bats and gloves ready to go. We need to be ready for January 25, the earliest we are permitted full team practices.”
The Penguins will host their baseball First Pitch Breakfast on Jan. 26 at McMenamy’s Restaurant and Banquet Center in Niles. Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle and local major league umpire Wally Bell are scheduled to attend.
Dr. Ray Duffett will serve as the Curbstone Coaches guest speaker on Monday.