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Softball Penguins focus on classes

YOUNGSTOWN — Brian Campbell, his staff and players heard the news on Monday.

The Youngstown State University softball team was no exception as the Penguins’ program, along with all spring sports around the Horizon League, were canceled for the 2020 season.

They knew something like that was coming after the March 11 game at Mississippi was canceled. The March 13-15 five-game series with Belmont and Murray State in Murray, Kentucky, wasn’t played either.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) was starting to spread throughout the country. Measures were being taken, such as stopping sporting events.

“There was something special about this team,” said Campbell, YSU’s softball coach. “We were 8-7. Unfortunately things happen and we understand why. We take our mission and our goal we had this year and looking forward to that in 2021.

“This year there was something special about these kids. I told them when we talked down at spring break, when everything started to take place, and we got canceled at Murray State.”

YSU’s classes are all online with no students allowed on campus for the remainder of the spring semester.

“My focus and my two assistants’ focus is making it in the classroom,” Campbell said. “We’re dealing with competitive young ladies who have the drive to be competitive. We’re trying to turn that competitive aspect to the classroom and do little things to keep them competitive.

“Once you’re an athlete, you’re always an athlete. You’ll always have that competitive drive. You want that. I think right now that’s what we’ve kind of done. My first priority as a coach, being in this situation, is with these players.”

He wants his players to stay safe as well.

“I explained to them they are part of history right now,” Campbell said. “It’s one of those things that safety is the first thing going through this process.

“It’s one of those things that it’s obviously hard on the young ladies, but they understand. That’s the one thing when we talked with them and let them talk, they understood it under the circumstances. I was very appreciative of them understanding.”

Senior infielder and pitcher Maddi Lusk is one of four seniors on the Penguins team. She had a 3-3 record with a 2.90 ERA. She also was hitting .354 with a team-high five home runs and 14 RBIs. Demi Ann Patonis, Tatum Christy and Elizabeth Birkbeck are the other three seniors. Birkbeck was out with an injury.

“She goes out and plays the game hard, works hard at practice,” Campbell said of Lusk. “She gets that result because of that work ethic and what she achieves throughout practices and carries on into the games.

“She did a really good job offensively for us, kept us in ball games as a pitcher, too. You look at a young lady like that, when you have her or any of the seniors, when something comes abruptly to an end, the uncertainty sets in. When you start finding out other information, it’s truly hard for her and the other seniors, too, when it first come across.”

Junior pitcher Elle Buffenbarger had a 4-2 record with a 3.35 ERA and threw a no-hitter this season in late February against Norfolk State — the first no-no the Penguins had recorded since 2013.

Meanwhile, junior Nikki Saibene, who led the team with a .459 batting average and had a team-high 17 hits (tied with Lusk), had a good start to the season. Saibene had two home runs and 11 RBIs.

“She worked really hard and fixed what she needed to fix with her swing and it showed, by all means,” Campbell said. “She had some big-time home runs and big-time hits that changed the ball games. I was excited to see Nikki come out from all that hard work and put it together for the 15 games we played. It was really something special to be honest with you, especially when you’re hitting that high.”

The NCAA announced it may extend eligibility for Division I players in spring sports who had their season canceled because of COVID-19. What does this mean for YSU’s softball team?

Campbell said he is trying to sift through that information.

“Those are things as we go through these weeks, we’ll be able to get some of those answers,” he said. “Getting to online, their classes have shifted. Plus, there’s still legislation the NCAA has to work on.

“Down the road, we’ll be able to iron a lot of that out as we get that information.”

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