Rancho grad Gillespie helped Youngstown State reach NCAA tourney

Former Rancho Cotate star Brent Gillespie led Youngstown State  to its first NCAA tournament victory in school history. (Youngstown State athletics)

Former Rancho Cotate star Brent Gillespie led Youngstown State to its first NCAA tournament victory in school history.
(YOUNGSTOWN STATE ATHLETICS)

PLAYER PROFILE

Brent Gillespie

Youngstown State: Infielder; batted .260; third on team in both hits and slugging percentage
SRJC: Big 8 All-Conference
Rancho Cotate: All-Empire

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A strong finish capped by playing in the NCAA tournament has Brent Gillespie looking forward to another year of baseball at Youngstown State University.

An Empire standout at Rancho Cotate, he started for Youngstown this past season after a successful run for Santa Rosa Junior College. Youngstown State took their conference title and then won the program’s first ever NCAA tournament game in a regional contest.

[RELATED: See how other former Empire prep stars are performing at the next level]

“It was unbelievable. It felt like we were making a little bit of history,” Gillespie said.

The infielder had a hand in the historic victory with an RBI as Youngstown State defeated Indiana State in the Indiana regional. Gillespie stroked three hits in as many games in the regional. Youngstown State fell to Stanford and host Indiana in the other contests, which was the Penguins first NCAA tournament appearance in a decade.

“When I went to Ohio, I never anticipated playing schools like that,” Gillespie said. “We definitely want to get back there.”

Youngstown State proved the best fit among a handful; of NCAA Division I baseball programs Gillespie considered after an all-conference sophomore season at Santa Rosa Junior College.

While going to college in the middle of the country demanded some adjustments, Gillespie said he has enjoyed the experience.

“It’s kind of nice to go and experience a different area,” he said. “You need to put forth the effort in the classroom and on the field to show you can handle the transfer to a bigger school.”

A communications major, Gillespie has done well in the classroom.

On the baseball field, he made a good enough impression to earn a starting spot. Gillespie batted .260 and was third on the team in both hits and slugging percentage.

Youngstown State struggled to string together wins. Then the Penguins got hot in the Horizon League Tournament, capturing the program’s second conference title.

“We kind of flipped the switch and kind of turned it on, played good baseball,” he said.

Steady pitching and clutch hitting carried the Penguins.

“Those two things clicked,” Gillespie said. “We really wanted it for our seniors. The program hasn’t been winning. It was nice to end the season on a good winning streak.”

With the title came the Horizon League’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Gillespie shared the moment with family and friends, including former SRJC teammate Matt Nadolski, who also was headed to the postseason.

“It was really cool,” Gillespie said. “That was the best experience in baseball in my life.”

It’s an achievement Gillespie wants to enjoy again. With half the Youngstown State starters returning next season the Penguins want to build on this past season’s success.

To prepare for his senior season, Gillespie is playing this summer with the Humboldt Crabs, a college summer baseball team. The coaching and high level of play is helping Gillespie become a more consistent hitter with improved power.

A strong final collegiate season could help Gillespie stay in the game in the professional ranks.

“I’ve got to get as strong as I can,” Gillespie said. “I absolutely want to play at the next level.”

You can reach Staff Writer Michael Coit at 521-5470 or mike.coit@pressdemocrat.com.

 

Comments are closed.