‘Special’ season lost
Penguins were marching before season canceled
YOUNGSTOWN — Coach Dan Bertolini’s eyes were affixed on his television, smartphone or laptop, just like most everyone around the Mahoning Valley — watching Gov. Mike DeWine speak the afternoon of March 15.
All bars and restaurants closed at 9 p.m.
His Youngstown State University baseball team was practicing prior to the announcement.
The Horizon League was the last league in the country standing as far as spring sports still playing this season. Monday, all spring sports were canceled for the 2020 season.
“We were going to be in trouble to continue to play,” Bertolini said. “We were prepared, but it’s tough to talk about. You feel bad for our guys, how hard they worked, especially our seniors. A lot of our guys are fifth-year seniors. There are a lot of moving parts for them moving forward if they want to continue to play. We knew the severity of the situation. It’s a serious public-health concern. We knew how much we put into this. We had a good start to the season. It’s definitely difficult.”
The Penguins were 7-7, losing a 2-1 decision against Bowling Green in their home opener at Eastwood Field on March 10, as the team’s last game before the season was put on hold at the time due to the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).
YSU was doing much better than its 13-41 season (7-20 Horizon League) last year.
“We knew we were going to have a good opportunity to make some improvements and have a good team,” Bertolini said. “We felt like we were prepared to play for a Horizon League championship. A lot of momentum moving forward. It’s tough to look back and say we’ve finally kind of found the place we want. Then, something outside your control happens.”
Former Ursuline High School standout Joel Hake, a redshirt senior pitcher, came out of the YSU bullpen a team-high 10 times and had a 0-1 record with a 1.42 ERA in 6 1/3 innings.
“He wants the ball,” Bertolini said. “He’ll take it any time you give it to him. He was off to a great start for us. He was finally healthy after getting banged up last year. He was probably going to set an amazing record of amount of appearances for a career.
“He had a great start to the season.”
The same could be said for the O’Shaughnessy brothers, Padraig and Braeden, both Poland High School graduates. Padraig, a redshirt sophomore, transferred to YSU from Mercyhurst North East. Braeden is a freshman.
“Both Pad and Braeden did a great job for us,” Bertolini said. “Braeden had a huge hit against Houston, a three-run homer than brought us within one. Great defense for us.
“Pad a couple big hits for us, had a big hit against Houston, had a big hit against Pitt. Both of those guys were off to good starts. I was looking forward to seeing them develop.”
Bertolini, a 2004 Poland graduate himself, is in his fourth season at YSU. He dedicated to keeping local talent like former Niles Red Dragons pitcher Marco DeFalco, Austintown native Blake Benyo and Champion standout Lucas Nasonti in the program.
“Lucas Nasonti has been here for three years and been one of the best outfielders in the league,” Bertolini said.
He doesn’t have to go far to recruit. That’s by design.
“A lot of guys are from northeast Ohio, western Pennsylvania,” Bertolini said. “A pretty good percentage of these guys are within 100 miles of campus. That’s how we want to build it.”
The NCAA is talking about giving Division I spring sports athletes redshirts this season.
YSU’s baseball team has five redshirt seniors on its roster, along with three other seniors.
Bertolini is going to wait to see what the NCAA finalizes its decision. Will seniors be the only ones who receive redshirts? Will all spring sports athletes this season get an extra season?
“I’ve talked to some of our seniors already,” Bertolini said. “I do think a vast majority of those guys will come back. It is tough. We have six guys that have been in college four, five years already. That sixth year is tough, especially trying to find classes and maybe starting a master’s program.
“There’s a lot of things yet to be decided. For the younger guys, we’re trying to figure out if they’re going to get their year back or what’s going to happen. As you’ve seen, I think everything changes by the day, or even by the hour. We’re going to try to stay flexible with it and figure out what’s best for these guys.”
The Penguins coaching staff is staying in touch with all their players during this time off, making sure they’re staying safe and keeping up with their workouts.
Bertolini hopes things settle down and gets back to a semblance of normal.
“We’re hoping at some point guys can return to campus and potentially start working out and eventually practicing a little bit before the summer starts,” he said. “I’m going to personally call every one of our players. Talk through our season. Talk through our individual meeting we have after the season is over.
“Try to keep the momentum going and the positivity. When the players left, they knew we had something special here.”