Penguins get closer to elusive winning season
By Jon Moffett
It was a tale of two seasons for the Youngstown State softball team in 2011.
For the first two months, it looked like the Penguins had the chance to have a statement season; the kind of season that would have helped turn the program around from its recent slump.
The Penguins finished the season with a record of 22-24, dropping their regular-season finale to Green Bay this past weekend. Had the Penguins won, it would have been the first time since 2004 the program had seen a .500 record or better.
The season began with a trip down south for various winter tournaments. And it seemed like the warm weather was having an effect on the squad. The Penguins went 15-7 to open the year, and things looked good.
But then the wheels fell off, and the car sort of swerved off the road.
The Penguins finished up the season on a 7-15 drought, losing the final six games and 10 of the last 12. The Penguins were only 4-8 at McCune Park, and dropped 12 of 19 on the road.
Coach Brian Campbell said the season was obviously a disappointment. But the team graduates only three seniors, and Campbell hopes the returning youth can maximize their talents and put it all together for a strong run in 2012.
“I told them they’ve got to go home and work hard this summer,” Campbell said following Sunday’s loss. “I thanked the seniors for what they’ve done and what they’ve meant to the program — their leadership and how they’ve helped the young ladies work hard.
“But now it just comes down to these underclassmen coming back, working hard during the summer to get ready for September when we get back,” he said.
The Penguins fielded a relatively young team. Seniors Erin Gilmour, Kim Klonowski and Kristina Rendle will depart, and Campbell said he’s proud to have coached them and watched them grow. He said the trio earning their degrees is the most important aspect of their time with the school.
The younger players also gained some important experience.
Juniors Jordan Ingalls and Haley Thomas and sophomore Vicky Rumph each started every game for the Penguins — as did Rendle. Junior Kristen Philen, sophomore Sarah Gabel and freshman Samantha Snodgrass each played in 42 games.
Campbell said every game acted as a sample size for the younger girls. He said he now has plenty of film to look back on to help the girls develop.
“You just take little things out of each game. You take the positives from each game,” he said. “Sure, we close out this season [in a bad way], but you take the positives and the things you need to work on. But you have to focus on the positives.”
Campbell said he was happy with the way some of the younger players stepped up. Freshman pitcher Casey Crozier was the team’s best arm, going 12-11 with a 3.24 earned-run average in 33 appearances. Ingalls, who was named to the Horizon League’s first team, led the team with a .385 batting average.
“Some of the younger pitchers did a great job and helped keep us in some ball games,” and he said. “And some of the younger hitters stepped in for some key situations. And the upperclassmen came through and won some ball games early for us in Florida.
“So you have to look at all of what we were able to do and just kind of look at the overall picture.”
Campbell harkened on the fast start for the Penguins. He said it was impressive to see such a young group jell so quickly and come together as a unit. He again credited the senior leadership and said the young players were more than willing to listen.
The poor spring weather also didn’t help the Penguins, Campbell said. Rain cancelled nine games and postponed several others.
“When we came back from Florida, we sat for a week and then played our conference games,” he said. “Then we sat for a week, had a road trip, came back and sat for a week. It’s been a little different weather this year than it’s ever been.”
Campbell said it is unfortunate for the seniors the season ended that way. But he said they’ll be successful and look back on the program with fond memories.
“We’re sending out three great young ladies into the community, and they’re going to be great in the work force,” he said.