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Penguins earn 2nd softball split vs. UIC

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes YSU’s Grace Cea, far right, is greeted by teammates after hitting a walk-off, game-winning double on Saturday against UIC.

Four games, four similar results — it’s what’s expected when the top two preseason softball favorites duel during the first weekend of Horizon League play.

Tied 1-1 in the bottom of the seventh inning Saturday afternoon in the first game of a doubleheader, and with freshman Hailey Niederkohr on second base, Youngstown State sophomore Grace Cea didn’t let the stress of the situation impact her.

Searching for her first hit of the day, Cea ripped an inside pitch toward left field and over the head of left fielder Dee Dee Caskey, scoring Niederkohr on a walk-off double.

A 2-1 win over the Flames marks the first time that Youngstown State has beaten the Horizon League powerhouse multiple times in a series since a sweep at home during the 2014 campaign.

“Well, I wasn’t too stressed about getting a hit, just because I wanted to go up there and I wasn’t looking to do anything big,” Cea said. “I was just looking to hit the ball hard, and it was really tough because (Miranda Gomez) was throwing a lot of riseballs, so we were getting under it most of the game and yesterday when she pitched.”

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes YSU's Maddi Lusk throws out a runner during the first game against UIC. 

Junior Elle Buffenbarger pitched a tremendous first game, fanning 12 hitters, while only giving up one run on a solo shot to right-center by UIC (5-9, 2-2) standout Kayla Wedl, who accounted for the Flames first seven RBI of the four game series.

That’s after Buffenbarger tied a career-high in strikeouts Friday evening with 13 in a 4-0 loss, in which Wedl belted a grand slam.

“I just mixed up my pitches and made sure I was hitting my corners,” Buffenbarger said. “That’s what we worked on all week, just making sure we’re hitting the river, the edge of the plate, and working hard to hit our spots.”

Neiderkohr scored the Penguins’ first run of the afternoon during the bottom of the fourth on an RBI single to right field, scoring freshman Jillian Jakse.

The Penguins (8-4, 2-2) dropped the second game of the afternoon, 2-1, following a pair of unearned runs on three YSU errors in the top of the sixth inning. Senior Maddi Lusk went the distance for a complete game with 8 strikeouts, but Jakse’s first career home run, which fell to the left of the centerfield bleachers, accounted for YSU’s only run of the contest.

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes YSU freshman Jillian Jakse (right) hugs junior Nikki Saibene (left) after hitting her first career homerun in the second game against the Flames.

Pitching was a theme throughout the weekend, with Buffenbarger and Lusk both tossing complete games on back-to-back days.

“My goal is just to win, but just to go out there and throw my stuff and not give in to the hitters swings or the umpires zone, it’s just to go out there and throw my game,” Buffenbarger said.

Youngstown State will now hit the road next weekend for a four-game set at Detroit Mercy (2-2, 2-2), beginning on Friday.

YSU coach Brian Campbell said he knows what his team has to work on going into the second weekend of league play, and was pleased with what he saw on the field versus the Flames.

“Coming out two and two, I’m happy, but like these girls would say, they’re not satisfied because we were so close in that last one there,” Campbell said. “But, we move forward, and we take the good, we fix what needs to be fixed, and we go into the next one.

“I’m not going to sit here and say as a coach that I’m not super proud of how they’ve done this weekend, but I also will say that we will move forward and that’s what we always do after our games.”

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