The colder the weather is for any sport, the funnier the outcome is. This was no different for the Youngstown State University softball team on Saturday.
Playing a doubleheader against Valparaiso University — the two-time defending Horizon League champion who had two wins over YSU on the final day last year — the Penguins got help from everybody, especially their freshman.
“I just knew going in that they’re the two-time champions, so we knew we needed to step up our game,” freshman Caitlyn Minney said. “I think we did that as a team really well.”
When Casey Crozier pitches, there’s a good chance YSU will win. The same could be said with Kayla Haslett’s early-season performance. When the Penguins score, Miranda Castiglione, their best hitter, has a say.
These three scenarios were not in effect Saturday as YSU split the doubleheader, losing 7-4 in the first game and winning 12-9 in the second against the Crusaders (6-19, 1-1 Horizon League).
“It’s always been a good, competitive game,” head coach Brian Campbell said. “It’s nice to be able to take one today and split with them. It really helps show these younger kids what the Horizon League is all about when you start off like that.”
Two “younger kids” that were crucial elements in the 12-9 victory were freshmen Minney and Katie Smallcomb. When the Penguins (13-10, 1-1) trailed 9-7 with one out in the top of the fourth inning, Minney relieved Haslett. She pitched 3 2/3 scoreless innings, allowed two hits, one walk and struck out five.
“I think Caitlyn did a great job of leveling out the ballgame,” Campbell said. “That game turned into a slugfest a little bit. Both teams were going back and forth. She came in, she got herself out of a bases loaded jam and just pitched wonderful.”
Offensively, Smallcomb led the charge with two hits, one walk, three RBIs and three runs. She batted sixth in the second game after hitting seventh behind Samantha Snodgrass during game one where she had two hits in four at bats. The lineup change had no affect.
“I was just trying to string hits together. I wanted to keep it in charisma, I guess,” she said.
Smallcomb added that the Penguins had revenge on their minds after losing the first game. Crozier took the loss, pitching a complete game and allowing all seven runs on eight hits, five walks and struck out 11.
YSU trailed, 4-0, when Sam Dowd hit a grand slam in the bottom of the fifth inning, her third home run and RBIs 14, 15, 16 and 17. It was YSU’s first grand slam since Haley Thomas in 2010 and 11th in school history.
Tied at 4-4 in the top of the seventh inning, Amanda Wisniewski put the game away with a two-out, three-run homer to left field. Twenty minutes later, Wisniewski was at it again in game two.
She hit a two-run homer to right field in the first inning off Haslett, giving Valpo its second 4-0 lead of the day. Tarah McShane and Janelle Bouchard each rocked RBI doubles before Wisniewski’s home run.
Haslett helped avenge her poor pitching performance with a three-run homer in the bottom of the second inning, cutting the deficit to one. Haslett is fourth on the team with a .286 batting average along with two home runs and eight RBIs.
“I think that sparked us there a little bit,” Campbell said.
The Penguins then scored four times in the bottom of the third inning, capped off by Haley Knight’s two-out, two-run double. Smallcomb led off with an RBI double. Shortly after, Snodgrass hit a sacrifice fly.
Leading 7-4, Valpo scored five times in the top of the fifth inning before Minney relieved Haslett. Minney entered Saturday with a 0-3 record and a 6.07 ERA, which was later reduced to 4.88.
YSU countered with five in the bottom half of the inning. Smallcomb tied the game at 9-9 with a two-run single. Darcella Blakey, another freshman, then lined a two-run double to take the lead.
Blakey replaced Haslett in the lineup. Also, the switch hitter batted right-handed against right-hander Sierra Pico. Except for her first at bat in game one, Blakey batted right against right-handers and left-handed against southpaws.
Courtney Ewing added some insurance with a two-out RBI single, giving YSU a 12-9 lead. Minney took care of the rest.
“I was just trying to keep our team in it, and we all contributed to every single run,” Smallcomb said. “It wasn’t just the RBIs. It was [Blakey’s] clutch hit. It was Kayla’s three-run homer. It was everybody.”
The third game of the series, which was scheduled for Sunday, was cancelled due to cold weather. No makeup date has been announced.
The Penguins don’t return home until April 9 against Saint Francis University (Pa.). Their next series is a doubleheader at the University of Akron on Tuesday, followed by a three-game series at Cleveland State University on Saturday and Sunday.