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YSU eyes Horizon crown this season

Thursday, February 26, 2004

The Penguins are coming off a 27-win season under coach Mike Florak.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Don't bother looking at preseason polls or comparing old records. They don't matter -- at least to the Youngstown State baseball team.
Despite a fourth-place finish in the Horizon League last season and being picked to finish third by the league's coaches and Baseball America in preseason polls, there is a definite goal in mind by the Penguins -- a Horizon League championship.
"Our goal is to win the Horizon League," coach Mike Florak said. "There's no question about it. That's our number one priority."
YSU begins the season Friday with a four-game series against Missouri.
Success last year
The Penguins are coming off their best season in Florak's five-year career at YSU, as they finished with a school-record 12 Horizon League wins.
YSU won 27 games overall, third-most in school history, including 16 games at Cafaro (now Eastwood) Field.
The 2004 squad will feature eight returning starters in the field, a deep pitching staff and an outstanding sophomore class that landed three members on the Horizon League all-newcomer team last season.
The Penguins feature Jim Lipinski at first base, Justin Banks at second, J.J. Newman at shortstop, Charles Schultz at third and Adam Cox at catcher.
Lipinski started 46 games last season despite a leg injury. He hit .234 with 30 RBIs and four home runs, and he is fourth all-time at YSU with 18 career homers.
Banks batted .306 and led the team in doubles, triples and at-bats, and ranked among league leaders in hits, doubles, triples and total bases.
Newman batted .234 and scored 18 runs, while Schultz was named to the Louisville Slugger freshman All-America team. In 53 games, he hit a team-high .356.
Cox tied school mark
Cox established himself as one of the premier players in the Horizon League, tying the school record with 11 home runs. He also had team highs in RBIs (37) and runs scored (44).
The Penguins return a starting outfield that combined to hit .307 and score 103 runs in 2003.
Senior Kendall Schlabach will start his third straight season in center field, while junior Jim Phillips returns to left and Brandon Caipen will be in right.
The Penguins' entire bullpen returns, along with a solid starting rotation and two seniors who missed the entire 2003 season with injuries.
Heading up the starting staff will be sophomores Justin Thomas and Eric Shaffer. Thomas, a 6-foot-3 left-hander, went 5-5 in nine starts last year and added a save.
He led the team in strikeouts (80) and pitched 752/3 innings with a 4.88 ERA.
Shaffer made nine starts last season and went 3-3 with 53 strikeouts to go along with a 5.05 ERA. Also a 6-3 left-hander, Shaffer walked only 17 hitters in 621/3 innings.