Prospects are very sunny for Youngstown State softball team
By Brian Dzenis
With new facilities and a mostly intact and quality roster coming back, there’s a lot of optimism surrounding the Youngstown State softball team.
“It’s always a good thing when we have so many returners. We have 14 out of 18 coming back and that’s always a positive,” senior infielder Stevie Taylor said. “We have a strong group of freshmen that will help out tremendously this year.”
The Horizon League shares those feelings, picking the Penguins to finish second in the league. They are coming off a 31-28 season with a 17-7 mark in the league.
“Getting picked doesn’t mean anything. We need to finish strong and we need to stay together in that aspect,” said Taylor, a South Range High School graduate. “It’s nice being picked second and it gives us some confidence heading into the season, but we have to earn that.”
YSU lost its top home run hitters in Sarah Dowd and Maria Lacatena with eight and nine homers, respectively, last year. The team still has its best contributors in other categories.
Austintown Fitch graduate Cali Mikovich batted .283 with a team-high 13 doubles and 25 RBI in her junior campaign.
Sophomore pitcher Maddie Lusk also can swing the bat, hitting .281 with 10 doubles and 19 RBIs.
On the basepaths, Hannah Lucas comes back for her senior season after swiping 20 bases.
“You have to make a change as a team. You had someone like Sarah Dowd who has the all-time home run record and this year, we’re more of a speed team,” coach Brian Campbell said. “You have more speed and you try to trickle some power into the lineup.”
Lusk will try to build on a 17-win season that earned her the League’s Co-Freshman of the Year honors. She set a school-record for innings pitched with 203.1 and was second in wins and strikeouts with 143 Ks. Junior Paige Geanangel and freshman Elle Buffenbarger round out the rotation.
“We’re excited about the three young ladies in the circle this year,” Campbell said. “You have the experience of [Lusk and Geanangel] and then you add Elle, who is more of an up pitcher.
“She throws a variety of pitches. She can throw the lower and come up with the rise ball. I think all three of them have a great mix of pitches.”
The Penguins will have to wait until March 23 — the team’s 24th game — to play on the recently upgraded YSU Softball Field in the Covelli Sports Complex. The field had AstroTurf installed plus more seating, a new retaining wall, an updated bullpen and a pedestrian walkway.
“It’s very beautiful. We’re very lucky to have that and it will help with some of our weather games that become an issue with the snow and the rain,” Taylor said. “I’m excited to have and I know our outfielders are definitely excited.”