Heading into the 2014 season, the Youngstown State University softball team will not forget last season’s Horizon League Tournament and what the team accomplished.
Senior Casey Crozier was reminded every time she set foot in her hometown of Valparaiso, Ind. that Valparaiso University defeated the Penguins twice on May 11 — 2-1 and 11-9 — in the double elimination tournament.
“It was awkward because I ran into a lot of Valpo girls,” Crozier said. “I always get crap from them. I still wouldn’t change any decision I ever made.”
The Penguins were the sixth and last-seeded team in the tournament. They entered May 11 one win away from the title. They defeated the Crusaders, 3-2, on May 5 to open the tournament.
“It’s kind of the Cinderella story that didn’t pan out exactly the way you wanted it to,” senior Courtney Ewing said. “For the people that were here last year, it’s definitely on their mind, and we definitely want to get back there.”
The experience could also help the Penguins teach the 11 underclassmen on this year’s roster.
“I think it’s done this team good to be runners up in the conference tournament because that’s an experience that a lot of these kids had and can pass on,” coach Brian Campbell said. “I couldn’t be more proud of last year’s team and what they achieved at the end.”
The biggest void on the field and in the lineup is replacing Vicky Rumph. The two-time All-Horizon League Second-Team selection is the school’s RBI leader with 123. She is also the only player in program history with a career .300 batting average, 20 home runs and 100 RBIs.
“I think you always have those classes that move on,” Campbell said. “You always have the other individuals to step in and hopefully contribute. You never replace kids. You hope to move forward and hope the kids that are in the program can step up.
“Sometimes, it’s averaging out. You don’t need to have a kid bat .400 or .500 if a couple of kids pick up a few points in their batting average. It makes you a lot stronger when it does happen that way.”
Rumph, though, is still with the team as a volunteer assistant coach. Her main job is to help the new catcher, which is slated to be freshman Maria Lacatena.
“Maria’s awesome,” Crozier said. “She’s been very versatile so far. Vick’s helped her a lot. She’s a pretty good pitch caller. I mean, she’s obviously not a Vick, but I think that if she works very hard, she can definitely get up there.”
There are also other players to replace such as Sarah Gabel who batted .315 last year. Out of the 11 underclassmen, seven are freshmen.
“I think it’s a little interesting because of all the freshmen that could potentially play,” Ewing said. “We’re not just figuring out our new team. We’re figuring out new players in that new team.”
As far as pitching, Crozier is the ace of young arms. Along with Crozier are senior Haley Knight, freshman Caitlyn Minney and sophomore Chancy Williams.
“We haven’t had four pitchers since my freshman year, so having four’s been really fun because I think everyone’s going to compliment each other very well,” Crozier said. “We all have C and K names, which is pretty cool.”
Crozier finished 16-10 last season with a 2.27 ERA and completed 20 of 27 games started. She also threw a no-hitter against the University of Detroit Mercy on April 10.
The season begins on Friday at the USC-Upstate Tournament in Spartanburg, S.C. against Towson. The Penguins then face S.C. Upstate and N.C. Central on Saturday before battling Virginia on Sunday.
“From what I’ve seen so far, they’re very solid and talented,” Ewing said regarding the underclassmen. “It’s just getting used to an actual college season. You can’t tell them how it’s going to be. They have to experience it.”