Penguins predicted to finish second in Horizon competition
By Greg Gulas
The Youngstown State softball team will enter the season expected to finish second to Illinois-Chicago, so say the Horizon League coaches in their preseason poll.
Brian Campbell. YSU head coach, is hoping that his squad can improve on their 14-10 conference slate while looking to make an even deeper tournament run.
Last year, the Penguins were 25-26 and advanced to the semifinal round of the league tournament,
“It’s an honor to be recognized, but it’s the preseason and in the end, you have to perform on the field,” Campbell told the Curbstone Coaches during Monday’s weekly meeting at Avion Banquet Center. “We lost 12 players over the past two seasons to graduation, six each year and all were great contributors.
“We have 12 underclassmen on this year’s roster, so our eight upperclassmen need to be leaders and must help them grow.”
The Flames received 81 points to YSU’s 69, garnering all nine first-place votes. Oakland University finished third (63 points).
“UIC has won the league the last four years, but there’s been a lot of pitching turnover with some teams due to graduation,” Campbell said. “Oakland and Wright State are also in the mix, but the one thing you cannot do is take pre-conference records into conference play because each team plays a different caliber schedule.”
Four locals will dot the Penguins’ roster this year, led by junior catcher Miyah Mitchum of Boardman who started 17 of the 23 games she played a year ago.
“The key for us this year will be our pitching staff,” Mitchum said. “They are a diverse staff and each one brings something to the table. Working with them during preseason practices has been exciting.”
The other three local players, all freshman, are catcher Alivia Oulton (Mathews) and pitchers Addy Jarvis (Mathews) and Kayla Rutherford (Cardinal Mooney).
“Miyah is a leader behind the plate,” Campbell said. “Addy will be a tremendous asset on the mound while Alivia caught her in high school. That’s a benefit because she can help her fix areas where she struggles.
“Kayla is one of the hardest throwers our program has ever seen,” Campbell said. “She comes at you fast both inside and out.”
Other pitchers are Paige Geanangel (12-13, 3.19 earned-run average), Elle Buffenbarger (10-7, 3.39) and Maddi Lusk (3-6, 4.70).
Backing up Mitchum will be Liz Birkbeck (.246, four home runs), Demi Patonis and Oulton.
Lusk (.315, team leading 35 runs batted in) and Milena Lacatena are the first basemen.
Campbell will use three players — Tatum Christy (.248, 19 RBIs), and freshman Alex DeLeon and Sydnee Harris — at sefcond base and shortstop.
Nikki Saibene (.216, six home runs and 23 RBIs) and Christy will play third base.
Freshman Grace Cea and Dani Dadig (.167) are the left fielders. Yazmine Romero (.393, team leading 66 hits) and Sarah Bader are the center fielders.
Lexi Zappitelli (team leader with .413 and 77 total bases) and Sophia Patonis are the right fielders.
Zappitelli finished in the Top 10 in batting average in all of Division I a season ago.
“This is definitely an exciting time for us with the season set to begin on Friday,” Zappitelli said. “It’s also a bittersweet time for me because this is my last season.
“We have a lot of potential but will need the younger players to step up and fill their roles.”
The Penguins open their campaign Friday at the USC-Upstate Tournament in Spartanburg, S.C., where they will play East Carolina at 1 p.m. and Towson State at 5 p.m.