COLLEGE SOFTBALL YSU opens Horizon tourney play Thursday
The Penguins play Butler at 4 p.m. in Chicago.
By PETE MOLLICA
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- A year ago, the Youngstown State University softball team set a school record with 36 victories en route to a second-place finish in the Horizon League regular season.
Thursday, the Penguins will enter the league's postseason tournament play in Chicago with a 29-20 record, which equals the second-most wins in school history.
One tournament win and the Penguins will have back-to-back 30 win seasons. Still, the team is a bit disappointed going into the tournament.
A year ago, YSU was picked to finish in the league's cellar, but nearly won the title and finished third in the tournament.
This year, the team was picked to finish second. But after losing five of its final six games (all in the conference), the Penguins dropped to fourth place (8-7).
Thursday, the Penguins will meet No. 5 seed Butler in the tournament's opening round at 4 p.m. on the campus at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
UIC top seed
Host UIC is the tournament's No. 1 seed and posted a 16-1 league mark. Cleveland State is No. 2 (13-6), followed by Loyola (14-7), YSU, Butler (10-10), UW-Green Bay (5-11), Detroit (6-14) and Wright State (2-18).
Tournament action begins at 10 a.m. when Cleveland State meets Detroit. Loyola and Green Bay clash at noon and UIC meets Wright State at 2 p.m.
The four first-round winners will play again Thursday, with the Cleveland-State-Detroit winner meeting the Loyola-Green Bay winner at 6 p.m. The winner of the YSU-Butler game takes on the UIC-Wright State winner at 8 p.m.
YSU won its first two tournament games last year, but lost its next two to finish third behind champion Wright State and Cleveland State.
Wright State was the No. 8 seed a year ago.
The Penguins come into the tournament after finishing up a three-game series with the Bulldogs on Sunday.
Butler took two of three games from YSU, but the Penguins won the final game, 9-6, to salvage the No. 4 seed.
Top honors last year
Last season, YSU head coach Christy Cameron was named Horizon Coach of the Year. Her five-year record is 95-149-1, but in the past two seasons she has posted a 65-37-1 mark.
A year ago, Amanda Berry was named the league's player of the year as a junior while freshman pitcher Kelly Murphy was the league's pitcher of the year.
Berry is having another big year as she leads the Penguins in most offensive categories -- batting average (.389), hits (61), home runs (7), triples (4), RBI's (41) and stolen bases (7). She holds the school's career marks in most of those categories.
Murphy set a school record with 22 victories last year and another mark with 179 strikeouts and 1.47 ERA. She didn't match those marks this season, but was still the team's best with a 14-10 record, 124 strikeouts and 1.55 ERA. She did it while pitching with a stress fracture in her right index finger the entire season.
But Berry and Murphy haven't been the whole reason for the YSU success.
Sophomore Tiffany Patteson, an All-Horizon League selection last year, is hitting at .364 and leads the team with 19 doubles, a school mark. She has scored 37 runs, another season record.
Other top hitters
Senior Lacey Reichert is the third Penguin batting above .300 (.311) while the team has three other players hitting above .300 against Horizon League teams -- Lacy Bronson (.333), Megan Bricker (.333) and Erin Moore (.320).
The team's No. 2 pitcher is freshman Karlie Burnell, who has posted a 9-8 record and a 1.88 ERA in 119 innings. Murphy has pitched in 153 innings.