By Joe Scalzo
Youngstown State senior Phil Lipari isn’t the only Penguin who moved to a new spot this offseason.
Of the 16 newcomers on this year’s YSU baseball roster, seven hail from California and three more come from outside the eastern time zone, making Lipari (who is going from shortstop to second base) one of the few players making a move to the left.
“I like how we have a bunch of new kids, a lot of kids from the West Coast,” said Lipari, a Poland High graduate who earned second-team all-conference honors last season. “It’s kind of a different chemistry, but a good chemistry. It’s something we haven’t had in awhile.
“There’s more confidence, more swagger.”
Youngstown State hasn’t had much to crow about in recent years. The Penguins went 14-43 last season, ending the year on a nine-game losing streak.
That was a slight improvement over 2012, when YSU went 11-44, and the Penguins also improved their batting average and scoring average, while lowering their ERA by more than a run.
Second-year coach Steve Gillispie believes he’s upgraded the team’s defense and its pitching depth — especially in the starting rotation — but the Penguins will still need to work to score runs.
“We’re fairly athletic, so I think we’ll be able to create some offense,” said Gillispie, whose team opens the season on Friday in Charlotte, N.C., against Virginia Tech. “I don’t know that there’s anyone there where we can just sit back and wait for that three-run homer.”
But, he added with a smile, “If someone wants to drop some three-run homers out there, we’ll take ’em.”
Lipari won’t hit many of those — he didn’t have a homer last season and he’s just 6-foot-0, 185 pounds — but he’s a good defender who set career-highs in batting (.263), on-base percentage (.372), steals (nine) and RBIs (27) last season.
Gillispie is also counting on Lipari to be a leader on a 35-man roster that features 17 newcomers.
“He’s had a couple of really good summers and I think he’s playing with a lot of confidence, which is obviously so critical with this game because the game is designed to beat you,” he said. “Going into his fourth year of doing this and having some success, we’re expecting him to provide some leadership and maybe handle some of the bumps in the road a little easier than some the young kids we’ve got because he’s been through it.
“We just want him to do what he’s capable of doing and not try do anything more and do nothing less.”
Lipari is one of 10 Penguins from the Mahoning and Shenango Valleys, giving YSU’s roster a good mix of east and west.
Will that lead to more wins? Lipari can’t wait to find out.
“Every year you look forward to this time,” Lipari said. “Now it’s exciting to get outside and see what happens.”