By Kevin Connelly
After watching his team win its first NCAA tournament game in Youngstown State history, Penguins second-year coach Steve Gillispie was asked if he thought he could get his team to this position, this quickly.
“I felt we could turn things around in a short period of time,” he said, with a straight face. “Now, this obviously kind of redefines turning things around.”
He said it with a big smile and why not? His Penguins had just finished playing their brand of baseball, which led to a rather comfortable 5-2 victory over Indiana State in the Bloomington regional’s first elimination game.
Energized by an efficient start from fifth-year senior, and Boardman High graduate, Patrick O’Brien, Youngstown State took the lead from the Sycamores (35-18) in the third inning and never looked back. The Penguins (17-37) got two-plus innings from their bullpen to close the game late and stay alive in the double-elimination tournament.
“Our kids really played a fantastic ballgame — clean defensively, we pitched very well from the beginning to end, and that was the way that we had played in the last two to three weeks of the season,” Gillispie said. “Obviously we’re very excited about what we just accomplished and we couldn’t be more happy.”
While O’Brien kept the Sycamores’ offense in check through the first six innings, another local product was the catalyst for the Penguins’ offense. Poland grad Phil Lipari reached base twice and scored on both occasions. In his fourth year with the program, Lipari is happy with how far YSU has come, but isn’t satisfied just yet.
“I think it gives us a little more credibility than we’ve had in the past,” the second baseman said. “It’s an awesome feeling, and me and Pat are both local kids.
“It’s great to be part of a very exciting time and hopefully we’ll be able to read some more positive things going on social media. It’s just an awesome time.”
YSU will meet Stanford in another elimination game at 1 p.m. today.
The Sycamores’ leadoff hitter, Landon Curry, jumped on O’Brien’s first pitch of the game and sent it to left for a double. Curry advanced to third with two outs in the inning and scored on a wild pitch. From there, the O’Brien settled down. The right-hander came into the contest with just two wins and was allowing opponents to hit .358 off him. He exited with one out in the seventh inning, giving up just two runs on 90 pitches, and his team ahead 5-2.
“You know I just did a good job of keeping the ball low, mixing it up,” he said. “We worked the changeup well early in the game and in the middle of the game they were starting to get on to it, so we started working the slider more.
“And I was keeping everything down and keeping their hitters off-balance.”
The Penguins strung together four singles to tie the game in their half of the second. Kevin Hix was thrown out at home on a hit by Shane Willoughby, but Lorenzo Arcuri was able to score Willoughby with a single.
Lipari drew a five-pitch walk to lead off the third and the Penguins followed that up with a perfectly executed hit-and-run, as Alex Larivee moved his teammate to third with an opposite field single. From there, Brent Gillespie gave YSU the lead on a sacrifice fly.
After a walk and an error, Willougby took a pitch on the arm to force in another run. From that point on, the Penguins were playing with the lead.
“They swung the bat very well against the fastball,” Sycamores catcher Mike Fitzgerald said. “They were attacking every fastball that [starting pitcher] David Stagg threw. He missed his spots a couple times, but for the most part they had a plan and they stuck with it.”
YSU chased Stagg in the fourth after he had allowed five runs on six hits. For a team that struggled all year against lefty pitchers, the Penguins didn’t back down from Saturday’s challenge.
“[Friday’s loss] was a tough loss to take, but we know Indiana is a good team,” said pitcher Josh North, who gave up just one hit in 12/3 innings of relief. “So we didn’t want to read too much into that. We just wanted to bounce back today and try to get a win, and we were able to do that.”