By Mikayla Mustard
The Youngstown State University softball team is readying for another stellar season of Horizon League play.
Last spring, the team had one of its most successful seasons in school history, and the women are looking to make another run for a ring. These defending regular season Horizon League champs, with a record of 36-15 and a conference record of 28-8, look to do even better than they did last spring, head coach Brian Campbell said.
“Last year, we were able to come together as a team and looked at it as each player had to do their job, whether it was to get on base, get a player over to score a run [or improve] our defense,” Campbell said.
The Penguins have a challenging 54-game schedule in a season that runs February to May. Conference play kicks off the second weekend of March.
The Lady ’Guins are projected to finish second in Horizon League play this season, with five first-place votes in the pre-season conference poll.
YSU maintained almost all of its 2021 roster, only bringing in three new players and keeping four fifth-year players who took their extra year of eligibility: Elle Buffenbarger, Nikki Saibene, Milena Lacatena and Yazmine Romero.
Buffenbarger, Horizon-League Pitcher of the Year from the 2021 season, carried a total of 212 strikeouts and an earned run average of 2.16. The 212th strikeout for her was the second-most in a single season for YSU. She also owns a career record of 22-19 with 308 total career strikeouts and ranks fifth all-time in this category.
As for Saibene, she carried the team with 25 home runs and 109 runs batted in for her career. She’s ranked fourth in career home runs and is tied for seventh in career RBIs.
She also shared the program’s single-game records for most hits, RBIs and doubles along with sharing the single-season RBI record of 49.
This past season, she was named to the National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-Midwest Region First-Team and earned All-Horizon League First-Team honors. She also appeared and started in all 51 games for the Penguins.
When asked to take her fifth year, Saibene did not hesitate.
“Deciding to take my fifth year was an easy decision for me. I love this team and this program so much that I would take up any opportunity I am given to stay and help out in any way I can,” Saibene said.
Campbell is in his 14th season in this position and said he’s continuously raised the bar for the success of this team. He has his mind set to turn the Penguin softball program into one of the Horizon League’s elite programs.
“We led the conference last year in our defensive percentage and that really helped out with our pitchers,” Campbell said.
He looks forward to getting things rolling to show the Horizon League what the team can do.
Senior infielder Alex DeLeon said she cannot wait to get back out on the diamond. In her 2021 standout season, she was named All-Horizon League Second-Team and appeared and started in all 51 games. She said she’s out to prove herself and her team even more this year.
“As we remember our successful season, we strive to be the better version of last year’s team. We have been working hard in practice to improve in each aspect of the game,” DeLeon said.