Next stop: NCAA tourney

MEQUON, Wis. – The Youngstown State University baseball team entered the Horizon League tournament as the sixth seed and with a record well below .500 in conference play. After Saturday, the Penguins left Wisconsin with a ticket to the NCAA Tournament.

YSU scored two runs in the top of the ninth inning and beat top-seeded Wright State for the second time in three days to win the Horizon League Tournament, 5-4, on Saturday afternoon at Kapco Park.

The Penguins will receive the league’s automatic bid to next week’s NCAA Tournament. They will play in the field of 64 for the second time in school history and for the first time since 2004.

Just as they did in 2004, the Penguins entered the postseason as the lowest seed and took the tournament by storm. They opened the week by beating No. 3 Valparaiso, 7-3, on Wednesday and they took down No. 1 Wright State, 7-1, on Thursday. YSU kept its upset streak alive by beating No. 4 and host Milwaukee, 11-5, on Friday in the winner’s bracket final, and it beat the top-seeded Raiders again for the crown.

Tournament Most Valuable Player Phil Lipari of Poland went 3-for-5 and David Saluga matched him with three hits. Lipari was joined on the All-Tournament Team by Brookfield’s Jeremy Quinlan, Josh White, Shane Willoughby and Matt Sullivan.

The Penguins took a 3-2 lead in the seventh inning on Lipari’s RBI single, and the eventual winning run scored when Brent Gillespie was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in the top of the ninth. Wright State had scored two runs in the bottom of the eighth to go up 4-3.

Lipari led off the game with a single, and he scored the first run of the contest on Sullivan’s sacrifice fly three batters later. Lipari made a great slide to the front edge of the plate to elude the tag of catcher Sean Murphy.

Wright State tied the score in the bottom half of the first when Jeff Limbaugh hit a one-out solo homer, and the Raiders followed with back-to-back singles to put runners at the corners. YSU centerfielder Kevin Hix helped Ryan Krokos escape when he caught Murphy’s fly ball and gunned Andrew McCafferty at the plate.

The Penguins faced their first deficit of the tournament in the fourth inning as Wright State scored a run on three singles. Murphy led off the frame with a single, and he scored two batters later on Joe Ford’s single.

Jack Van Horn, making his first career start for Wright State, settled in after the third inning and retired the final seven batters he faced. He allowed a single to Lipari to start the third, but Lipari was erased when Alex Larivee lined into a double play with the hit-and-run on. Van Horn then surrendered a two-out single to Gillespie before starting his stretch of seven straight outs.

The Penguins regained the lead in the seventh with a pair of two-out runs. Saluga and White started the inning with singles, and Hix moved them over on a sacrifice bunt. Willoughby was hit by a pitch to load the bases, but Logan Blair struck out Lorenzo Arcuri on a check swing after the Penguins right fielder hit a ball that was just foul down the right-field line. Lipari then hit a slow chopper up the middle that went under Michael Timm’s glove, and two runs came in. Lipari was awarded a single, and the second run was ruled to score on an error.

Anthony Konders retired the first Raiders batter of the eighth inning to complete three innings of scoreless relief, and he handed the ball to closer Kevin Yarabinec. After Kieston Greene grounded out, Wright State started a two-out rally when Murphy reached on an infield single where he jarred the ball loose from Gillespie’s glove at first on a tag attempt. John Brodner followed with a walk, and Ford tripled in both runners on a ball that just went under Arcuri’s diving attempt in right.

Canfield’s Joey Hoelzel, the Horizon League Pitcher of the Year, came on in relief to try and send the teams to a winner-take-all game. Hix reached on a one-out infield single, and Willoughby reached on an error. Arcuri walked to load the bases for Lipari, who made one of his rare outs with an infield pop-up. Larivee delivered a clutch RBI single that plated Hix with the tying run, and Willoughby scored the eventual winning run when Gillespie was hit on the foot by a 2-2 pitch.