Softball team earns top spot in Horizon League

By Richie Juliano

The Youngstown State University softball team currently sits at the very top of the leaderboards in the conference. The Penguins have a record of 27-9, and have taken the Horizon League by storm with a record of 20-4 in conference play. 

Thirteenth-year head coach Brian Campbell leads the Penguins. Campbell recently coached his 1,000th career game at YSU. He said every player accepting their role aids the team’s success. 

“Our team slogan is ‘we over me,’” Campbell said. “We have pinch hitters and defensive players that have accepted their role, and have done a fantastic job in those roles.”

Two players were deemed Horizon League Players of the Week for their performances in the series against University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Junior infielder Nikki Saibene won the Batter of the Week title while junior pitcher Elle Buffenbarger won the Horizon League Pitcher of the Week award. 

Both Saibene and Buffenbarger have won their second Horizon League weekly honor of the season. Saibene said her positive mentality contributes to her successful junior campaign. 

“Coach Zilles has helped me a phenomenal amount with telling me to go into the box and be positive no matter the outcome,” Saibene said.

Buffenbarger leads the Horizon League in four different pitching categories in 2021, with 153 batters struck out as one of the four categories. Buffenbarger emphasizes hitting her spots while on the mound.

“My mindset is to focus on what I can control, and that’s hitting my spots,” she said. “I am going into games not trying to do too much.” 

The team slugs the ball on offense this season, outscoring total opponents by 61 runs. With the heavy run support, Buffenbarger says that takes a ton of pressure off the pitching staff.

“It allows our pitchers to throw our games a little more, while having that comfort cushion of the runs behind us,” Buffenbarger said. 

YSU had its biggest conference stretch of the season in the past couple weeks. The Penguins swept the No. 2 seeded Oakland Golden Grizzlies April 16 and 17, before facing off against No. 4 seeded Robert Morris University April 23 and 24. The team won two of the four games in the series against RMU. This weekend they’ll host Cleveland State starting at 3 p.m. Friday. 

Although the next couple matchups are highly anticipated, Campbell wants his team to focus on one game at a time.

“Friday we play, and that’s as far as I want these young ladies to look at,” Campbell said. “The way that the games are laid out this year having no mid-week games, it has really helped having the opportunity to break things down.”

The Penguins have a younger roster this season with only three seniors to lead the way. Saibene said the young women on the team have really stepped up this season.

“The younger players have all done a great job whether they are starting or coming in,” Saibene said. “They are very positive and help our team a lot.”