Softball to take on Youngstown State in #HLSB Tournament


Robert Morris softball will take on Youngstown State in the #HLSB Tournament. Photo(s) Credit: Ethan Morrison

Tyler Gallo

The stage is finally set for the Horizon League Softball Tournament. In their first year in the league, Robert Morris softball has claimed the no. 4 seed. They have earned a date with the regular-season champion and tournament host Youngstown State Penguins.

Robert Morris, aided by strong offense and pitching, played to their best record since the 2013 season, going 25-17 after playing middle-of-the-pack softball in the Northeast Conference.


This season, the Colonials had four players bat over .290 as Natalie Higgins (.415), Ariana Garroway (.333), Alaina York (.298) and Erika Bell (.306) all surpassed the mark. Higgins became just the second Colonial ever to bat above .400 over a full season, joining Keri Meyer (.418 in 2005) in the select club. Her nine long balls and 43 RBI stand in the top five in school history for a single season. Overall, the team batted .270 with 30 home runs.

The pitching staff was just as strong as the four pitchers combined for a 3.42 ERA this season. Rachael Rhinehart had a sub-3 mark with a 2.87 clip and Dana Vatakis was not far behind with a 3.04. Madison Riggle (3.90) and Jane Garver (4.33) all contributed to a solid season in the pitching circle.

After dropping three of four at Green Bay in late March, the team earned at least a split in all its remaining series, playing to a 17-10 record in its 27 ensuing games, including taking three of four from third-ranked Oakland. They come into town after a split of last-place Cleveland State.

Youngstown State will host the Horizon League Tournament after cruising through its non-conference and conference schedule, never losing more than three games in a row and having two separate seven-game winning streaks. They finished with a 35-13 overall record and 22-6 in-conference, good for first place.


The offense was a strong piece of the Penguins’ success this year, boasting three lineup regulars with batting averages of .320 or better. Nikki Saibene (.380), Jillian Jakse (.349) and Alex DeLeon (.325) all had strong hitting seasons with Saibene recording the strongest of them all, swatting 11 home runs and driving in 38 runs to lead the fray for the Penguins, who batted .280 as a team.

Perhaps even stronger was the pitching for the Penguins, whose top two starters recorded sparkling earned run averages with the pitching staff notching a 2.39 ERA as a whole. Maddi Lusk (2.14) and Elle Buffenbarger (2.16) combined for eight shutouts on the season with Buffenbarger holding opponents to a .197 batting average. The Colonials dealt with this head-on as Buffenbarger twirled consecutive shutouts against them in their regular-season series. The Penguins are fresh off a split of Northern Kentucky.

The Penguins scored an average of 5.16 runs per game while only allowing 3.14 runs per game. The Colonials’ marks were a bit lower, averaging 4.92 runs per game while allowing 4.45 per game.

Robert Morris will travel to Youngstown with their eyes on a trip to Omaha and have a tough task first, doing battle with Youngstown State at their home field at noon on Thursday televised on ESPN3. This is a strong matchup for both sides, and one could not go wrong choosing either team to win as they match up well.