By Ryan Jones
Seniors Becky Hibner and McKenzie Bedra paced the Penguins’ wins.
CANFIELD — As spring has begun to blossom, so has the play of Youngstown State’s softball team.
In a 4-3, 11-3 sweep of non-conference Saint Francis (Pa.), the Penguins put together a performance indicative of their talent.
Coach Christy Cameron said the team played its soundest games of the season.
“I’m proud of the effort we’ve had all season,” she said. “It would have been easy for this team to lie down, but they’ve kept working all year. There’s been no quit.
“All along we’ve known that with the talent we have we were capable of putting it together in all three phases of the game. In most of our games this season we’ve had two phases and lacked the other.”
Seniors Becky Hibner and McKenzie Bedra led the Penguins (10-29) on the mound and at the dish. Hibner (1-5) earned her first career victory in the opener, and combined with Bedra to knock in eight of 11 runs in the nightcap.
The right hander tossed 6 1/3 innings, allowed four hits and three earned runs, before giving way to Cheryl Cale, who notched her first save of the season.
The 5-foot-5 inch right-hander said getting her first win as a pitcher was great.
“What makes the performance better is that I relied on my teammates to help me out,” Hibner said. “It was nice to have our offense score four runs. That allows you to relax more as a pitcher; unfortunately I almost relaxed too much.”
Hibner held the Red Flash scoreless until the final frame when she found trouble after surrendering a lead off double to Nicole Waligora. After a strikeout and a walk to pinch hitter Raquel Rugani, Waligora scored on a wild pitch to cut the lead to 4-1.
Richele Hall followed with a two-run blast to left that brought Saint Francis to within 4-3.
“My ball started to become flat,” Hibner said of the seventh inning. “I was tired by that point in the game, but I need to be in better condition. I’m just glad Cheryl [Cale] was able to save me.”
In the night cap, the Penguins fell behind 3-1 before rallying for seven runs in the fourth inning.
Bedra led off with the 30th home run of her career — a solo shot to right center — that cut the margin to 3-2.
With one out, Kristen McDonnell doubled and advanced to third on a single by Bethany Hafley. After the next batter struck out, Hibner came to the plate with the go-ahead runners on and two outs — and didn’t disappoint. She lined a two-run single into right field to put YSU up 4-3.
“I was trying to hit a hard grounder through a hole and ended up hitting a line drive” Hibner said. “I knew going into the at bat that a base hit was going to score two runs.”
The Penguins strung together four more consecutive hits with two outs, including an RBI single by Kristin Bair, before Bedra capped off the inning with a three-run double that pushed the lead to 8-3.
Bedra, the Penguins career leader in home runs, said her mind was focused on one thing—the runners.
“When you’ve got base runners in scoring position, no matter the situation, you have to get those runs home,” Bedra said. “I was just trying to drive those runs in.”
Bedra, who went 3-for-4 with 5 RBIs, brought the mercy rule into play in the fifth inning when she drove in the final run of the game that made the score 11-3.
“We put offense, defense and pitching together today,” Bedra said. “We’re definitely excited going back into league play this weekend. This is a good confidence boost for our team because we know what it feels like to win, and we want to do that again.”