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Timely sweep

YSU takes two against Northern Kentucky

Correspondent photos / Robert Hayes Youngstown State’s Yazmine Romero, left, slides into home with the go-ahead run in the bottom of the sixth in YSU’s 4-3 win over Northern Kentucky in the nightcap of a doubleheader on Tuesday. The Penguins won the front end of the doubleheader as well, 4-2.

YOUNGSTOWN — Clutch hitting when it counted, that was the name of the game Tuesday afternoon for Youngstown State softball against Northern Kentucky.

A pair of feel-good wins were also welcome following a bizarre weekend.

Originally, the Penguins were slated to make a trip up north to Detroit Mercy, but the series was scrapped following a COVID-19 issue with the Titans’ program. YSU added a doubleheader at home Saturday against St. Francis, then played two at Dayton on Sunday but dropped three out of the four contests over the weekend.

By final scores of 4-2 and 4-3, Youngstown State swept the visiting Norse on Tuesday, climbing into third place in the Horizon League.

Ahead 1-0 in the bottom of the second, sophomore Alex DeLeon knocked a long single with the bases loaded that barely missed being a grand slam. The hit scored Conchetta Rinaldi.

The Penguins ended the frame with a 4-0 lead and had momentum early on.

“In that at-bat, I had already seen the pitcher (Lauryn Hicks) once and I hit a double to right-center field, I was seeing her really well,” DeLeon said. “I felt really good warming up, so coming into that at-bat, I was really just focused on seeing the ball out of the pitcher’s hand and just driving it as hard as I could, and that’s exactly what I did.”

Maddi Lusk (5-2) pitched well, fanning eight Norse hitters, and limiting damage after coughing up a pair of runs during the top half of the sixth on two hits and a hit-by-pitch.

She fanned Megan Lenhart with runners on second and third base to end the game, securing her fifth win of the campaign. So far, she posts an ERA of 2.97, but carries a 1.33 ERA against league opponents.

Timely hitting came into play again early in the second contest as well for YSU. With the bases loaded, this time it was freshman Hailey Niederkohr with a massive hit to left field, scoring a trio of Penguins on a bases-clearing triple to give her team an early 3-0 edge.

A massive smile came from the freshman as she stood on third looking toward her team’s dugout, but it was all about putting the ball in play.

“I think we all came together and we all individually just wanted to get some runs,” Niederkohr said. “So, we just worked on just getting base hits after base hits, and that really came through in that second game.”

Meanwhile, Elle Buffenbarger cruised through much of the second game, although like Lusk, she ran into trouble during the top of the sixth. A three-run shot by NKU’s Ava Lawson tied the contest up and gave the Norse some life late into the doubleheader.

It didn’t take long for YSU to find the score board again however, a bunt single by Yazmine Romero and a base hit by Grace Cea set freshman Avery Schumacher up with no outs during the bottom of the sixth.

It also didn’t take long for Schumacher to do some damage, as she’d hit a shot past the infield on the first pitch of the at-bat for her second RBI of the season, with Romero grabbing home plate while kicking up a cloud of dust to put YSU up 4-3.

“I think it’s all about our mentality,” Schumacher said. “We’ve been talking about scoring runs, and not rolling over, and obviously we did in the second game and we were able to come back.

“Even in the first game, we kinda rolled over a little bit, but it’s all about the mentality. We’ve been talking about pushing hard, not letting off the gas and that’s really all it’s about.”

Buffenbarger struck out the next two Northern Kentucky (4-14, 3-7) hitters, with a ground ball up the middle to her ending YSU’s doubleheader sweep. A fist pump came from the Penguins pitcher following the final out, with Buffenbarger recording her fourth performance of 10 or more punchouts.

Youngstown State (11-7, 4-2) coach Brian Campbell sees improvement with a younger roster, despite YSU having far less games under their belt than normally for this time of the year.

“That’s the thing when you look at it,” he said. “We’re 18 games in. Usually we play 10-12 over Spring Break, so that’s how far back we are. A little bit due to the rain down south with some of the tournaments and stuff like that.”

Back in 2019, YSU had 22 games under their belt already, with some seasons offering even more games early on.

“So, we have to look at it where we’re at 18 (games), we’re still young, we’re still understanding it, and I’ll take that any day of what their performance was today,” Campbell said.

YSU hosts Purdue Fort Wayne (3-9, 2-6) this weekend, with a doubleheader starting at 2 p.m. Friday.

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