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Split leaves YSU with three wins

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes -- YSU’s Nikki Saibene beats a Purdue Fort Wayne baserunner to third base for a force out on Saturday.

YOUNGSTOWN — Sweeping a team during a three-game series is difficult enough, but having to win a fourth? That’s a whole other challenge in itself — besides being another weird quirk of the COVID-19 protocols.

Youngstown State’s softball team found that out Saturday, with an 8-3 win over Purdue Fort Wayne, but an 11-6 loss in the back end of the doubleheader at YSU. The Penguins had won 3-2 and 8-0 on Friday night.

Under normal circumstances, teams in the Horizon League play in a single game and then a doubleheader, but weekend series this spring have been changed to back-to-back doubleheaders.

“Two different looks at it,” coach Brian Campbell said. “I thought we did a tremendous job in both games fighting back in the second game there, and winning the first one.

“We’re normally used to playing the three-game series, but now there’s the four games, so for us to take three out of four, it’s always (hard) to beat someone four times.”

It didn’t take long for YSU to light up the scoreboard as Jillian Jakse ripped a liner down the left-field line to score both fifth-year senior Maddi Lusk and Hailey Niederkohr in the first. That put YSU up 2-0.

Jakse went on to later drive home Taylor Boeckmann on a single up the middle in the fifth, and Sarah Bader on a sacrifice fly in the sixth inning of the first game.

Her trend of bringing Penguin runners home isn’t new, especially since she’s second on the team with 13 RBIs and a .288 batting average. She credits her success to the oldest veteran at YSU.

“It’s always tough being a freshman — it’s a new team, a new environment,” Jakse said. “But, I just go up to the plate everytime thinking, hit the ball hard and score runs because that’s what we need as a team, runs on the board.

“I think that Maddi (Lusk) has taught me everything I need to know about playing first base that I know so far,” Jakse added with a laugh. “So, they (the seniors) really help us a lot, and they’re the reason that we’re successful.”

Lusk, who tallied two RBIs in each contest Saturday afternoon, along with recording a save at the end of the first game, teaches the freshmen to just relax.

“I’ve worked a lot with Jillian (Jakse) just because we play first base a little bit, and helping her in that way, but then just messing around with them, getting them to be loose and not be under pressure,” Lusk said. “Because I know how it is as a freshman playing.”

Elle Buffenbarger (6-3) went five innings, allowing two runs on four hits and eight punchouts before Lusk came in to close the door over the final two innings.

Freshman Sophie Howell (2-3) (Champion) started the second contest. She went three innings and gave up all four earned runs on five hits and four walks. Lusk was brought in during the top of the fourth, but a plethora of defensive miscues gave Purdue Fort Wayne (4-12, 3-9) a 9-3 lead.

Of the seven runs that Lusk gave up during the second game, only one was earned.

“It’s just extremely hard (playing a fourth game) because they see the pitching multiple times and from a pitching standpoint, it’s just difficult because when you see people that many times they obviously know what you’re throwing,” Lusk said. “They can adjust. It’s just harder to get them in that aspect, and to adjust to them. It’s just difficult when you see them that many times, so you just have to trust your defense a little bit more.”

Besides Lusk’s two RBIs in game two, Alex DeLeon and Jakse both tallied an RBI on a fielder’s choice, along with an RBI single up the middle during the bottom of the sixth by Niederkohr.

Youngstown State (14-8, 7-3) sits on top of the league standings ahead of a road trip next weekend to IUPUI (7-13, 5-5), edging second-place Green Bay by .057 in win percentage.

“The good thing is that our young ladies understand that we need a couple things to work on and be able to kinda fix.” Campbell said. “That’s part of it. I would even say that if we ended winning that last game, it would be the same concept.

“We would be, on Monday, working on a couple things that we need to fix. I think that’s what makes your team, understanding that.”

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