By Joe Catullo Jr.
After the first 20-win season since 2006, Youngstown State softball coach Brian Campbell is the Horizon League’s Preseason Coach of the Year.
He doesn’t care.
“That’s great, but it is preseason,” Campbell said. “I think what I look at it is what the kids achieve.”
Last year’s conference Coach of the Year has bigger concerns besides worrying about what accolades he receives. He’s trying to figure out how he will replace his leadoff and No. 3 hitters.
Former center fielder and leadoff hitter Haley Thomas was last season’s Horizon League Softball Player of the Year, the first Penguin to get the honor since 2003. She finished with a .431 batting average, nine home runs, 40 RBIs, 18 doubles, 117 total bases and a .701 slugging percentage, all team-leading statistics.
Batting two spots below her and playing right field was Jordan Ingalls. She batted .405 with 35 RBIs, 13 doubles and a .513 slugging percentage.
“I think when you look at those two and what they were able to achieve last year as seniors, you look at some returners,” Campbell said. “You just turn the page and work for this year.”
One outfielder returning is senior Sarah Gabel. She batted .297 last year with 26 runs, two doubles, two triples and two home runs. Gabel was named to the Preseason All-Horizon second-team earlier this year.
“We lost a good group of seniors, and we are young this year,” Gabel said. “But we have a lot of talent, that’s for sure, and it’s just a matter of us meshing together and playing like we should.”
Along with the batting statistics, Gabel added that the Penguins must replace Thomas’ and Ingalls’ fielding. Ingalls posted a .969 fielding percentage while Thomas finished with a .956 percentage.
“I know our offense has always been good, but that will definitely come with time, especially with the live hitting,” Gabel said. “It might take some time to get used to the live hitting, but I think we’ll be pretty strong in the outfield this year.”
Returning catcher Vicky Rumph will likely remain the cleanup hitter. She batted .340 in 2012 with 53 hits, 28 runs scored, 13 doubles and four home runs. CollegeSportsMadness.com named her Preseason All-Horizon League earlier this year.
Junior Casey Crozier, another preseason All-Horizon second-team member, returns to the pitching staff. She collected 13 wins a year ago, the first YSU pitcher to post back-to-back 10-win seasons since Kelly Murphy (2003-2004).
But what Campbell said will win games — along with pitching — is defense.
“We worked really hard in the WATTS in terms of defense and working hard with the pitchers,” he said. “And we spent some time, but you don’t really get the true live hitting until you start the games.”
YSU begins its season on Saturday in the UNC-Charlotte Tournament. The Penguins are projected to finish fourth out of seven teams in the Horizon League after a 29-21-1 campaign (12-10 in the conference).
“I think we’re pretty confident,” Gabel said. “We have the talent, and I think we’re going to shock the world this year.”