Banks brothers proud of YSU baseball success

In 2004, the Youngstown State baseball team finished the regular season with a 14-28 record.

In 2014, YSU went 12-36. Before entering the Horizon League tournament, it lost eight of its last 10 games.

In both years, the Penguins were down but not out.

“We knew we had to make a great run,” said Justin Banks, a member of the 2004 team. “We did.”

Each season, each team rattled off four wins in the conference tournament to qualify for the NCAA tournament. This year, YSU earned wins over Valparaiso and Milwaukee and topped Wright State twice to earn a date in the baseball version of college sport’s “big dance.”

“They were just like us,” Banks said. “Both teams were one of the last to make the tournament and we both caught fire at the end.

“They had a bad record, then boom. Everybody got hot, they put it all together and won the title. I’m proud of the guys for making school history.”

On Friday, the Penguins had a date with Indiana at the Hoosiers’ home field in Bloomington. They were 42-13 and champions of the Big 10. YSU entered the tournament with the worst record in the field.

The Hoosiers came away with a 10-2 victory.

“It’s a Big 10 school, but they weren’t anything too special,” said Jeremy Banks, Justin’s little brother. “YSU competed. Indiana just had more timely hitting and were able to get the victory.”

The younger Banks, a 2012 Youngstown State graduate, played four years for the Penguins with a .324 career batting average. He made the six-hour trip to watch some of his former teammates play in front of 4,125 fans – the largest crowd to witness a YSU baseball game.

“It was a pretty cool experience, especially for the team,” Banks said. “Getting the chance to play in front of a huge crowd, against arguably one of the better teams in the nation, in a night game under the lights – it’s a once in a lifetime experience.”

The moment made him think back to 2009 – his freshman year – when the Penguins opened the season playing against Georgia.

“It’s a whole different environment there,” he said. “They take their baseball pretty seriously in the south.”

BREATH OF FRESH AIR

Jeremy went 65-154 as Penguin.

“Our record didn’t match our talent,” he said. “I don’t know if we just couldn’t click or something, but every time we went to the Horizon League tournament, we realized that the regular season was over. Our regular season record was out the window.

“We played decently well all four years. With the 2014 team, they got hot at the right time. The pitching came through – hats off to them. As a fan, it’s hard to imagine. But I’m not surprised that they believed in themselves and the coaches pushed them to put out the run that they did.”

His final season, was the first for new head coach Steve Gillespie. Jeremy was able to stay on a season after he graduated as an assistant coach with the new staff.

“It’s a little bit of a different culture,” Jeremy said. “They expect a lot out of the players. They’re more hard-nosed, a little bit more-disciplined. Guys can’t get away with goofing off too much. If you’re not performing, you’re not going to get a chance to play. You have to show these guys that you deserve to be on the team and out on the field.”

Last year, Jeremy played for the Traverse City Beach Bums in the Frontier League. He recently accepted a job with a wealth management firm in Hermitage, Pa.

CARRYING ON THE TRADITION

Justin remains in Steubenville as an assistant baseball coach for Big Red, under Fred Heatherington.

“As a player in high school I learned a lot from Coach Heatherington and the other coaches,” Justin said. “They really prepared me for college ball. I got so much better at YSU, too. But I can’t thank the guys here enough for helping me as much as they did.”

He remains third on the Penguins’ all-time hit list with 249 during his career form 2003-06. Justin’s teammate on the 2004 NCAA team, Kendall Schlabach, holds the top spot with 265 career hits.

He also played with standout pitcher Justin Thomas. The Toledo native is currently in the Angels organization after stints with the Mariners, Red Sox, Pirates, Yankees and Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan.

“He was an absolute stud,” Justin Banks said.

The 2004 NCAA berth was the first in program history. It took the Penguins to Austin, Texas where they faced the Longhorns (a 10-3) and TCU (a 12-8 loss).

“It was just awesome,” Justin said. “The group of guys we had played together as a team. The experience was amazing in Texas. We were going up against No. 1 team in the country.

“The people down there were so genuine and nice to us. They love their baseball down there. They welcomed us with open arms and even though we lost, they were still cheering for us.”

The following year, Justin helped YSU finish 29-27 – its last winning season.

On Saturday, Youngstown State defeated Indiana State, 5-2, for the first NCAA tournament victory in school history. Today, it faces Stanford in the double-elimination tournament. The Cardinal fell to Indiana, 5-4, on Saturday.