CHICAGO - Youngstown State's top six batters combined for 11 hits, and the Penguins scored six runs in the final four innings to beat Milwaukee, 8-4, in the first round of the 2012 Horizon League Baseball Tournament on Wednesday at Les Miller Field.
First-Team All-League batters Drew Dosch and Jeremy Banks combined for five RBIs for the Penguins, who advance to play top-seeded Valparaiso tonight at 9. Milwaukee will play an elimination game against Butler at 11 a.m.
Russ Harless allowed three runs on three sacrifice flies in six innings to earn his third victory. Kevin McCulloh allowed a run in two innings, and Nic Manuppelli retired the Panthers in order in the ninth.
Banks finished 3-for-5 with two RBIs, and Dosch had three RBIs and scored twice. Phil Lipari and Jason Shirley also posted two hits for YSU, which outhit Milwaukee 12-9.
The Penguins were victorious in the No. 3 versus No. 6 matchup for the third straight season.
Dosch doubled in Lipari and scored on Banks' single to center in the first to put the Penguins up 2-0. They managed just two more hits over the next four innings, but Harless was able to limit the damage to keep the Guins within striking distance.
Back-to-back singles and a hit batsman allowed Milwaukee to load the bases off the freshman right-hander in the third inning. Harless, though, held the Panthers to just two runs on two sacrifice flies, and the Penguins nearly turned a double play on the first one. Dan Hurlimann's throw from right was slightly up the third base line, and home plate umpire Paul Lancaster ruled that Craig Goubeaux missed Jim Lundstrom on the swipe tag.
"Russ was able to minimize the damage in the third inning, and that showed a lot of maturity," YSU head coach Rich Pasquale said. "He worked quickly and threw strikes and just battled out there. He did a tremendous job, especially for being just a freshman."
"We stayed away from allowing a big inning, and that's something we've struggled with this year.
A single, a walk, a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly by Lundstrom put the Panthers ahead 3-2 in the fourth.
With Eric Semmelhack cruising for four innings, the Penguins got to the UWM starter in the sixth. Lipari drew a leadoff walk after being down 0-2 in the count, and Leon singled to right on an 0-2 pitch to put runners at first and second. Dosch then brought in both runs with his first career triple, and Banks followed with a single up the middle to put the Guins up 5-3. Jason Shirley added a single two batters later, which knocked Semmelhack from the game.
"Phil and David did a good job of getting on to set the table for Drew and Jeremy all afternoon," Pasquale said. "Then Drew and Jeremy were able to come up with some big hits. Adding after the sixth was also huge for us to keep the pressure on them."
Kevin Hix then walked and scored on a two-out error in the seventh, and Marcus Heath drew a leadoff walk in the eighth and scored on Hix's two-out single that put YSU up 7-3.
Lipari jumped and was fully extended to snag a liner in the bottom of the seventh to save a run, and Milwaukee took a run away from themselves in the eighth. Phil Striggow led off with a single, and Jonathan Capasso followed with what appeared to be a two-run homer. However, since Striggow was waiting to see if Hurlimann could make a catch in right, Capasso passed him between first and second base. Capasso was ruled out as a result despite hitting the ball over the right-field wall, and Striggow was awarded three bases and a run.
Banks doubled and scored on Heath's two-out single to left in the ninth to add an insurance run for the Penguins.
Harless did not allow a hit until a one-out double in the second, which was Milwaukee's first hit against him in 25 outs. He did not allow a hit after a leadoff single in the second inning in his start against the Panthers on April 21 and went on to pitch through the eighth. He allowed five hits on the afternoon while walking one and striking out two.
Semmelhack was charged with five runs on nine hits in 5 1-3 innings. He struck out 11 batters the last time he pitched against the Penguins.
Youngstown State will certainly be familiar with Valparaiso. The two teams played last Thursday through Saturday, with Valpo completing a season sweep.
"We have a big challenge tomorrow," Pasquale said. "We haven't beaten them, and they're the league champions for a reason. They can be an explosive team, and (Thursday starter) Tyler Deetjen is always tough."
The Crusaders ended the regular season by winning 24 of their final 28 games, but Milwaukee was also hot heading into the tournament. Prior to its loss to YSU on Wednesday, the Panthers had won nine of their last 10 contests, including eight straight against conference teams.
Junior right-hander Pat Shedlock will start for YSU on Thursday.