A long time coming
Penguins set record for league wins in a season
NILES — A record-breaking afternoon for the Youngstown State baseball team came to the tune of a three-plus hour marathon.
But when you score 18 runs and set a program record for Horizon League wins, a longer contest isn’t necessarily a bad thing either.
When the Penguins high-fived and walked off the sod at Eastwood Field Sunday afternoon, they had nothing but good vibes following an 18-6 rout of Oakland which completed a four-game sweep. It was YSU’s fifth straight victory overall.
The win marks the 17th league victory for YSU, breaking the old record of 16 set during the 2006 season.
After winning just 13 games back in 2019, seven in conference play, the turnaround the program has undergone — especially during a pandemic — is a testament to its leadership.
Especially for players like Collin Floyd, Joel Hake (Ursuline), and Gary Clift Jr., who have been with the program for five or more seasons.
“Sometimes maybe you appreciate it a little bit more probably after the season is over, of what we’ve accomplished so far, because there’s a lot that we still want to do,” YSU coach Dan Bertolini said. “But, there’s been some guys that have been here through some rough times, and those guys stuck it out for six years and now they’re part of something special.
“It’s kind of what we talked about when we recruited these guys, if you stick it out and do it right we’re going to have a good chance to win, and this is a special group.”
The Golden Grizzlies (9-22, 3-17) started their ace pitcher Brandon Deans on Sunday afternoon after he came into a relief situation in the second game of Friday’s doubleheader.
The Penguins wasted no time scoring off of the Oakland righty, with senior Jeff Wehler scoring on a wild pitch, just before senior Blaze Glenn jacked a 2-0 pitch down the left field line past the visiting bullpen for his third home run of the year.
It started what ended up being another long afternoon for the Golden Grizzlies, who came into the weekend after being shut down since April 4.
“It’s kind of hard in baseball to keep the momentum going,” said Glenn, who posted a 3-for-6 line with a season-high five RBI. “You really have to focus up and keep having good at-bats and not go through a lull.
“You have a big inning, you have to keep adding on, so instead of having a lull through the second, third, or fourth, you have to keep adding on.”
YSU scored 12 runs before being shutout in the fifth and sixth innings, then posted six more scores in the seventh. Freshman starter Nick Perez posted his third win of the season, going five innings and allowing four runs on six hits with a trio of punchouts.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, teams have eliminated non-conference midweek games in favor of four-game series, instead of the traditional three-game set. High-scoring contests like Sunday’s win gave YSU the opportunity to give reserves playing time that they normally would have obtained during midweek games.
Junior Dylan Swarmer and sophomore Andre Good are two such players, each posting an RBI knock. Sophomore Andrew Russell (Champion), a transfer from Ohio University, posted a shutout inning in his first appearance since April 2. Fellow Sophomore Nathan Ball recorded a pair of Ks during an inning of relief.
Sophomore Turner Grau had a two-run triple, with Wehler going 2-for-3 with two RBI, and senior Dominick Bucko and junior Phillip Glasser posting an RBI knock.
“It’s been really tough from a developmental side of things,” Bertolini said. “I thought (redshirt freshman) Trey Law had a good at-bat, (redshirt sophomore) Blake Benyo had a good at-bat, it’s important for those guys to get some work. Just because, you never know, you’re one play away or two plays away from having to go play.”
Following the sweep of Oakland, YSU (22-17, 17-11) finds itself in third place in the Horizon League, just behind second-place Illinois-Chicago (18-15, 17-10), which swept Milwakuee on the road this weekend.
The Penguins travel to the Windy City for a four-game set next weekend. Wehler and the rest of the team try to keep focus on a tight race for second place, batting an average of .290 as a team, with eight players batting .300 or higher.
“It all comes down to sticking to our game plan, and obviously there’s going to be a few games, hopefully not, but there’s going to be a few games where the at-bats aren’t going to come to some guys. We’re not always going to hit the ball hard because that’s just the game,” Wehler said.
“But, if we just stick to our plan and continuously hit the ball hard, I think this offense is going to be pretty good in May.”