Former Spartan becoming ace for YSU

For Patrick O’Brien, a former Boardman Spartan, it was a no-hitter against Ursuline his senior year that stands out the most in his decorated high school career.

“That was the highlight of my career,” O’Brien said. “It’s tough to throw a no-hitter and Ursuline always had a good program.”

Throwing a no-hitter may be as much luck as skill but one can’t argue longevity has anything to do with luck. O’Brien posted a 12-5 record with 142 strikeouts during his three years at Boardman. He was named first-team All-Federal League as a senior with a 1.70 ERA.

Coming out of high school, he was a top pitching prospect and had his sights set on Division I schools. He earned a scholarship to Bowling Green State University and became a member of the baseball team in 2010.

As a freshman, O’Brien went 4-3 for the Falcons and earned a team-high six saves. O’Brien struck out 24 batters in just over 34 innings of work. While O’Brien was primarily a closer for the Falcons, he prefered starting rather than ending games.

“It was a good building-block for me going there being a closer,” he said. “It was a lot of pressure being a closer as a freshman but it prepared me to be a starter.”

O’Brien made 26 appearances as a freshman at BGSU and also earned the Fireman Award for best relief pitcher for BGSU. While he had success as a Falcon, he made the decision to come home and play for Youngstown State University. He sat out in 2011 due to the NCAA transfer requirement. He made his Penguin debut last season on Feb. 17 versus Canisius.

“I just wanted to come home,” O’Brien said. “I’m really enjoying my time here at Youngstown and the guys are great.”

The Penguins’ starting rotation has been bolstered by O’Brien thus far this season as he ranks sixth in the Horizon League with 42 strikeouts.

“He’s been the most consistent at pitching to where he’s capable of,” Youngstown State coach Steve Gillispie said. “He’s very competitive and loves to get after the other team.”

O’Brien finished 2012 with a 1-6 record and a 5.59 ERA in over 46 innings pitched. This season, he is 3-4 and has an ERA of 4.34, which ranks in the top 10 in the Horizon League. He has already thrown more than 64 innings for the Penguins as a junior.

“If you’re just fastball away and slider, then hitters will just take an opposite field approach,” Gillispie said. “He’s tightened up his slider and he’s throwing the fastball for strikes on both sides of the plate.”

Along with fanning opposing batters, O’Brien has been extremely durable for the Penguins.

“When you’re able to locate early in counts you can go deep in ball games,” Gillispie said. “He’s managed his pitch count effectively and he has worked quickly.”

While O’Brien has been a key to success in the starting rotation, he shares a special bond with a few former Spartans in Nick Dinello and Dan Popio who now play with him at YSU.

“It’s good to have the Boardman guys around,” O’Brien said. “Nick Dinello is like a walk-on All-American for us and Danny (Popio) has been really good off the bench as a backup catcher and pinch hitter.”

Gillispie also can sense a unique relationship between the three former Boardman Spartans.

“On Monday (April 2990) they’re going out to the opening of the Boardman Little League at the Field of Dreams to throw out first pitches,” Gillispie said. “The whole team is a tight knit group but there is something about those Boardman guys as they kind of roll with a different attitude.”

O’Brien will be crucial down the stretch as YSU jockeys for position in the Horizon League standings. The Penguins will host the Horizon League Tournament at the end of May.