Baseball season starts Friday
There’s a net enclosing the field section of the track inside the Watson and Tressel Training Site.
On the turf field, there’s a baseball game being played as coach Dan Bertolini and his staff watch their team scrimmage each other with the calendar moving closer and closer to first pitch.
It may still be winter on the outside, but baseball season is here, and YSU is ready to kick off the program’s 66th season.
The Penguins posted a disappointing 13-41 record in 2019 as injuries, particularly with the pitching staff, left YSU shorthanded throughout much of the spring.
“I think the big difference is just the way we’ve handled ourselves on the mound,” Bertolini said. “Our pitching has taken a big step forward this offseason throughout the fall and into this winter.”
“I think there’s been a lot of guys who have really stepped up and that’s going to make us just a lot better. We’re going to be more competitive, we’re going to play better defense because it all starts with that pitching.”
Outfielder Jeff Wehler posted a batting average of .290 last season and stole 30 bases, the first Penguin to do so since 1970. As a junior, he’s one of the leaders on the team, but feels that YSU has a chip on their shoulder. “We’ve always been a struggling team in the Horizon, but coach Bertolini is bringing in guys who just don’t want to lose.”
“That’s the main factor, I think that the fact that we got a chip on our shoulder and we want to be a better team and more widely known as a better ball club in the Horizon League, and so on.”
Pitchers Joel Hake (Ursuline), Gary Clift Jr., Zack Minney and Collin Floyd all return after missing significant time in 2019. Travis Perry and Colin Clark look to be in the Penguins starting rotation along with Floyd. The Penguins have a total of 16 pitchers on their roster going into the season.
For centerfielder Lucas Nasonti (Champion), having a stronger pitching staff means less time having to be idle in the outfield.
“It’s huge, being out there wares on you, I don’t care what anyone says.” he said “Standing out there for long innings and walks and it’s a lot easier when you’re more engaged.
“You’re more focused, and it’s a lot easier to play when the pitchers are going out and working quick innings, it’s a lot more fun too.”
Blaze Glenn, Phillip Glasser, Cody Dennis, Dylan Swarmer, Cameron Murray and Steven D’Eusanio bring playing experience to the infield and outfield going into the Spring.
A lot of local talent plays for YSU as well, including Blake Benyo (Austintown; IMG Academy), Marco DeFalco (Niles McKinley), Kenny Misik (Austintown-Fitch), and John Ritter (Springfield).
Brothers Braeden and Padraig O’Shaughnessy (Poland) are two of the many new faces on the Penguins roster. Braeden is a freshman, and Padraig enters the season as a redshirt-sophomore after transferring in from Mercyhurst North East.
Bertolini, whose a Poland graduate himself, feels that recruiting locally is important.
“We want to be represented by the Mahoning Valley, there’s great baseball in our area in Mahoning, Trumbull, and Mercer counties.” he said. “For us, we want to get good players from anywhere, but I think a lot of those local guys are going to have opportunities to help us right away and are going to be a big part of our team this season and moving forward.
“So we’re going to continue to try and get those guys to stay here in Youngstown and hopefully we’ll have a great year and it’ll help keep some of those guys that have left in the past to stay ere and help us win.”
YSU begins its 2020 season this Friday at the University of Houston. The Penguins play their home opener in Eastwood Field on March 10th against Bowling Green.