Champion graduate makes his presence known for YSU
Youngstown State University baseball coach Dan Bertolini always knows where Lucas Nasonti is and exactly what he’s doing during batting practice every day.
Some players may be going through the motions, talking about school, the weekend or the next game. Not Nasonti, a former star outfielder at Champion High School.
The junior is intently focused. Every fly ball counts. Every rep is a chance to get better.
“In my opinion, he’s the best defensive outfielder in the Horizon League,” Bertolini said. “He’s as good as it gets out there. In batting practice, he’s not just standing out there spitting sunflower seeds. He works hard at his craft, to be the best he can be, and he does a great job.”
He has doing that since he first arrived on campus.
Nasonti is a three-year starter in the outfield. He said he didn’t experience much of an adjustment to the larger fields of college baseball when he came in as a true freshman. The fact that he has a pair of Division I athletes to the left and right of him helped, but Nasonti’s work ethic was his biggest asset.
“Starting my freshman year, I played a little bit of everywhere, until the end of that season,” he said. “I started playing center every day, and I’ve been in center field every game since. (Defense) is something I definitely take pride in, something I take very serious.
“I just want to be that guy who can go out there, and that’s not even a question about defending. I try to be one of the best outfielders in the conference every year.”
He has certainly put Bertolini’s mind at ease.
Now entering his fifth season at YSU, Bertolini has watched the speedy center fielder make countless spectacular plays. He blends athletic ability (he was the Trumbull County Player of the Year in basketball as a senior at Champion) with a relentless focus on improving. Maybe Nasonti’s greatest strength is making difficult plays look easy because of his baseball smarts.
“Instincts are part of it,” Bertolini said of what makes Nasonti such a great outfielder. “His first step, his break on the ball, the way he reads the ball. He’s fast, too. He’s probably not the fastest center fielder in our league. He runs well, but it’s just his ability to read the baseball off the bat. He kind of beats balls to the spot. He just really understands how to play the outfield, and he has a good arm.”
It wasn’t on display much in 2020.
Like all NCAA spring sports, the Penguins’ season was canceled just a few weeks in because of the pandemic. It was unfortunate on a number of levels, and not being able to see Nasonti continue to grow was one of them.
He had good success as a hitter his true freshman year, batting .264 with seven doubles, two homers, 14 RBIs and nine stolen bases. His sophomore year, his batting averaged dipped to .245, but he hit more doubles (8), stole more bases (13) and had more hits (47 compared to 33). His defense was stellar, as usual.
Bertolini had an even better feeling about 2020.
“He had a great freshman year for us,” he said. “He was on the (Horizon League) All-Freshmen team. Just like everyone else, guys get film on you and they get a book, and they really pitch them a specific type of way. I think he was about to have a breakout year (as a junior). He hit some balls really hard in the short part of this season. He was just starting to kind of break out, and I was excited to see where that was going to end up this year before COVID.”
Nasonti and the Penguins are staying optimistic.
They endured through a few rough seasons (going 13-41 in 2019 and 18-38 in 2018), but Nasonti said he noticed a change within the team over the last year. There was an influx of young talent to go along with a strong group of upperclassmen — one that is determined to turn the program into a winner.
He said almost all of the seniors from 2020 are returning after receiving an extra year of eligibility, and he’s anxious to get back on the field and see if YSU can become the team he envisions.
“It’s one of the closest groups of guys I’ve been with, and also one of the most talented groups I have ever been with,” Nasonti said. “I’m just super excited.
“It’s speaks a lot that those (seniors) are coming back. I think they all see what we have going on here. They’re excited. They want to see what we can do.”