The Penguins swept the tournament despite entering as the lowest seed, a feat accomplished only one other time in school history.
Going into the tournament, the Penguins had a 16-36 record, the worst in the Horizon League. This didn’t stop the Penguins from playing to win, despite the predictions that they would lose not only in game one of the tournament, but also fail in the loser’s bracket.
“You know, early on, we had 10 of our first 25 scheduled games lost to weather…so the weekend pitchers didn’t get a lot of time in, and we struggled on the mound. Then the injuries came,” said Steve Gillispie, head baseball coach, recounting the trials of the early season. “We had a lot to overcome…we had to learn how to win.”
Learning to win was a task the Penguins took seriously, despite their lopsided record. They managed to defeat both Pittsburgh and Kent State midway through the season, and won two of their three games against the University of Illinois at Chicago after having been swept by them in a series earlier in the season.
“There were signs of the team’s skill that showed up here and there during the season…but I’d say it was that UIC weekend here, where we beat them two games in a row, where we really saw the pitching come out strong and saw what we could do,” Gillispie said.
Following the losing season, the Penguins managed to come together, and really demonstrate their strength as a team, sweeping the postseason tournament with a 4-0 record against top seeded teams Wright State and Valparaiso.
For senior pitcher Patrick O’ Brien, the lack of belief in the team by the public was no secret, and he was happy to help turn it around.
“It was tough in the beginning…eventually, near the end of the season, you just kind of want to start fresh with a 0-0 record. But then we got hot, and I think the Valparaiso games heading into the tournament are where it turned for me. We got hot and everyone came together,” O’Brien said.
Senior infielder Phil Lipari, who was selected as tournament MVP, echoed the sentiments of his teammate.
“We kept the confidence up, and we got hot and started playing the best baseball of our lives. You know a lot of the teams weren’t expecting that from us,” Lipari said.
“I think it’s a great chance for us to measure ourselves against some of the elite teams in the country…we’ll get to see exactly where we are against some great teams. It’ll be a great challenge,” Gillispie said.