By Dan Hiner
The Youngstown State University softball team played a series this weekend that could have a significant on impact its season.
YSU hosted Cleveland State University in a three-game series. The Vikings came in with the best pitching staff and the best offense in the Horizon League.
The Penguins played a doubleheader to start the series on April 11. The Vikings won the first game 10-7, but the Penguins won the second game 8-5.
YSU began the first game trailing 1-0 in the top of the first inning. Left fielder Sarah Dowd reached on an error and first baseman Miranda Castiglione walked. The Penguins took a 2-1 lead after Dowd scored on an RBI single by right fielder Cali Mikovich and Castiglione scored on a wild pitch.
The Penguins extended their lead to 5-1 in the bottom of the second inning. YSU drove in three runs on four hits — including a two-run homerun by Dowd that drove in catcher Maria Lacatena.
Cleveland State scored six unanswered runs in the third, fourth and fifth innings to take a 7-5 lead in the bottom of the fifth inning. YSU tied the game 7-7 after Lacatena hit a two-run single with two outs. In the top of the seventh inning, the Vikings took the lead for good after right fielder Mackenzie Joecken hit a three-run homerun.
The offense continued early in the second game of the double header. Freshman Alexandra Gibson said the team’s performance against the top pitching staff in the Horizon League gave the lineup confidence heading into the second game.
“We kept our energy up knowing we could come out and hit them. After our talk in the first game we said, ‘You know what, we could hit her. Let’s go,’” Gibson said
The Vikings jumped out to an early 3-0 lead in the top of the second inning. The Penguins responded by scoring six runs in the bottom of the second — including a two-run homer by Dowd.
In the top of the third inning, Cleveland State cut the YSU lead to 6-4 after a solo homerun by shortstop Cynthia Woodard. [Alexandra] Gibson hit her first career homerun in the bottom of the inning.
“I was rounding the bag, and I was amazed that I hit that,” Gibson said. “I haven’t been hitting the ball out that far at all. I’ve been hitting the ball, putting it in play and getting base runners around. It was a great moment and a great feeling.”
Brian Campbell, the head coach, said the team had strong opposition in both games.
“I think when you look at both games, they came in leading the conference in homeruns. In the first game they were able to hit some balls with base runners on,” Campbell said. “In the second game — correct me if I’m wrong — I think a lot of their homeruns were solo shots in the second game. Going down through the process, that’s one of the things you want. They’re a good hitting team. We were able to out hit them going down in both games. Unfortunately, in the first one, we had a couple hits we would have taken with runners in scoring position — we would have traded out a hit for that.”
The Penguins lost the rubber match 2-1 on April 12. Cleveland State took an early 1-0 lead in the final game of the series after a solo homerun by Woodard in the first inning — her third homerun of the series.
The Penguins came back to tie the game in the bottom of the third after Lacatena hit a RBI double that drove in shortstop Katie Smallcomb. The Vikings took 2-1 lead in the bottom of the sixth after a solo homerun by pitcher Susan Knight.
Freshman pitcher Ashley Koziol started the second and third games of the series. Koziol pitched 12.1 innings in the series — allowing seven runs on 12 hits.
“Ashley came in and was able to keep them off-balance,” Campbell said. “She threw a lot of ground balls and was able to entice them into popups and they were a little bit more up in the air then straight out. The young lady came in and did a tremendous job.”
The Penguins will host the University of Akron on April 14 at the YSU Softball Complex. First pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m.