By Joe Scalzo
As the Youngstown State baseball team wrapped up its Tuesday practice, junior Nick Manuppelli stood in the middle of the team huddle and channeled his inner “Major League.”
“There’s only one thing left to do,” he yelled, quoting the movie. “Win the whole [bleeping] thing!”
Like those Indians, the Penguins (14-41) begin the postseason as underdogs. Unlike those Indians, they’ve struggled down the stretch, dropping nine of their last 10 conference games to enter the Horizon League tournament as the fifth (i.e. last) seed.
Even worse, YSU will be without its best player, junior third baseman Drew Dosch, who suffered a serious knee injury while trying to avoid a collision at first during last Friday’s game against Valparaiso.
The Penguins fear it could be an ACL tear, which would also jeopardize Dosch’s draft prospects. Dosch was projected to go as high as the third round.
“I think we probably experienced several levels of emotions,” YSU manager Steve Gillispie said. “Obviously, everyone loves Drew. You’re not going to find a better person off the field. So for him to be hurt and have to miss the end of the season, everybody was down.
“But I think everybody kind of looked at it as an opportunity for other guys to get in and maybe accept the challenge a little bit. Pick up some of that slack.”
YSU will play fourth-seeded Wright State (22-28) at 3 p.m. today in the first game of the double-elimination tournament at Eastwood Field.
Boardman High graduate Patrick O’Brien (3-7, 5.02 ERA) will start for the Penguins.
“I feel confident,” said O’Brien, who will make his first HL tournament start. “It’s going to be pretty cool to play the Horizon League tournament at home. We definitely feel more comfortable here.
“Any team can win it — whoever plays the best ball for four days. I think if we play our best game for four days, we’re going to put ourselves in a good situation.”
This is the third time the Penguins have hosted the tournament; they went 4-0 in 2004 and 0-2 in 2008.
They were 5-13 at home this season.
“There’s no doubt this is the finest venue in the league,” said Gillispie, whose team was last in the league in ERA (6.54). “The ball doesn’t travel as well here as it does in other stadiums in the league, so that plays to our advantage.”
The Penguins went 8-16 in conference play, beating every team at least once. They were the lowest seed each of the past two tournaments, winning the first game both times before falling a game short of the tournament final.
They are 12-11 all-time as a lower seed in the tournament.
“We’ve played pretty bad baseball recently but that’s not us, we know it’s not us, and we’re going to get back to the way we played in the middle of the season,” said junior Phil Lipari of Poland, who was named second team all-league on Tuesday. “It’s a fresh start, a clean slate.