Penguins nearing league title after sweep
YOUNGSTOWN — There were quite a few Penguins that trotted across home plate, which is firmly situated on the corner of Ford and Grant streets on the Youngstown State University campus on Friday afternoon.
Welcoming in-state rival Cleveland State, the YSU softball team went to work against the Vikings, taking both games of Friday’s twinbill, 8-0 and 9-2.
With the pair of victories, the Penguins’ magic number to clinch homefield advantage for the Horizon League tournament sits at two.
“I thought we did a good job making our adjustments with the pitchers,” YSU coach Brian Campbell said following the victories. “I think we saw three different pitchers today, so I thought they did a good job of adjusting and putting the ball in play hard.
“I think that, that’s one area, you like to see them take good cuts and put it in play as hard as they can.”
Leading 1-0 in the bottom of the first after Yazmine Romero scored on an Alex DeLeon sacrifice bunt, Avery Schumacher ripped an RBI double down the leftfield line.
Not to be out done, Nikki Saibene, batting .391 in league play, belted a two-run double to right field, who later scored on a sacrifice fly from Liz Birkbeck.
The early 5-0 outburst put the Penguins in the driver’s seat, and allowed hitters to relax at the plate before scoring a total of 17 runs between the two games.
“I think it does help us, but coach Campbell is really good with this, and preaches and we live by it, not letting up,” Saibene said. “Every inning our goal is to score no matter how many we’re up by, or how many runs they have, just kinda using that to fuel us.”
Later on, leading 6-0 in the bottom of the fifth, Saibene crushed her seventh home run of the spring to end the game early and institute the Mercy Rule, ending the first contest of the afternoon.
“All that’s going through my mind is getting on base, doing whatever I can help my team, and whatever happens, happens,” Saibene said with a laugh about her home run.
Maddi Lusk improved her record to 12-4, fanning eight hitters and only allowing two hits.
YSU once again held an early edge, 2-1 heading into the bottom of the fourth inning of game two, when Conchetta Rinaldi (Cardinal Mooney) sent a home run left of the centerfield banner to score three, and kickstart another five run inning.
“Just going out there and having fun is just what we do,” Rinaldi said. “It’s what we’re supposed to do, and going out there and just performing and having fun, it just all comes together.”
Of course, having a big home run makes things just a little bit more enjoyable too.
“It definitely gives me a little bit of a confidence boost,” Rinaldi said. “Especially when I needed it because there were times that I did struggle a lot at the plate. So not really the long ball, just a solid hit like that is always reassuring.”
Rinaldi went 2-3, also recording an RBI single during the bottom of the fifth to score Hailey Niederkohr. Tatum Christy found her first hit of the 2021 campaign by way of the home run herself, knocking a solo shot to center field to finalize the Penguins scoring during the bottom half of the sixth.
Schumacher added a 2-3 line during game one with a pair of RBI, adding another RBI on a bases loaded walk in game two.
Jillian Jakse went 1-2 with a two run double, leading the other freshmen in the league with 12 doubles and 31 RBI.
Elle Buffenbarger now sits at 16-3, striking out seven through five innings of work, only allowing a solid home run to CSU’s Sydney Bajusz. Sophie Howell (Champion) fired off the final two frames, fanning a trio of Vikings (10-32, 5-25) and allowing one run on a hit and three walks.
YSU (31-11, 24-6) closes in on the single-season program win total, moving into second place Friday afternoon with 31, tying a total they achieved in 2017.
The program record sits at 36 wins set back in 2003, with this year’s iteration of the Penguins having six more regular season contests left on their slate.
Buffenbarger is also chasing a piece of history herself, needing six more wins to tie the single-season wins mark of 22 set by Kelly Murphy during the aforementioned 2003 season, and 40 more punchouts to tie the single-season mark of 218 set by Addy Jarvis in 2019.
The Penguins have a chance to clinch home field in the Horizon League tournament for the first time in program history today, with a second doubleheader against the Vikings. The first pitch is set for 2 p.m.
With potential history on the line, the Penguins remained focused on each game as it comes.
“All that matters is that first game at 2 o’clock,” Saibene said. “That’s all that matters.”