By Ben Hercik
As the snow starts to melt and the ground begins to thaw, the Cleveland State University softball team begins its season. The past five seasons have been a struggle for the team as they failed to post a winning record. The team is looking to right the ship under second-year head coach, Amy Kyler.
Kyler is a former player at Cleveland State and a member of the Athletics Hall of Fame for the school. Kyler wanted to return to her former stomping grounds and hopes to help the team return to the success from her playing days in the mid to late ‘90s.
“I knew for so many years that I wanted to be at Cleveland State,” Kyler said. “It was an incredible transition to come back because I know what it takes for these Vikings to be successful.”
The season got underway with a quintet of games in Texas to take part in the Cardinal Invitational. The trip saw the Vikings go 2-3, and they had multiple good performances in all five games.
The first game of the season was against the University of Delaware. The Vikings fell behind early and couldn’t recover, losing 7-2 despite home runs by sophomore Aly Packish and junior Sydney Bajusz.
It was then on to a game against the University of Incarnate Word. Cleveland State fell behind 4-1 going into the sixth inning. Sophomore Mackenzie Tucker started the comeback effort with an RBI double to cut the lead to 4-3. A single by junior Courtney Fernette brought Tucker home and tied the game. In the seventh inning, Packish hit a single up the middle that brought both Bajusz and senior Hallie Ward across home, which made the final score a 6-4 in favor of the Vikings.
After a tough 2-0 loss to Grambling State University, Fairleigh Dickinson University was next on deck. Cleveland State took out the anger of the loss on the Knights, winning 5-0 behind two RBIs from senior Kelly Hysong. The Vikings rounded out their time in Texas with another game against Delaware, and although the score was closer than the first meeting, the result remained the same. Home runs by freshman Kaelin Ettinger and Fernette, plus a single by Ward, gave the Vikings a 3-1 lead going into the seventh. But the Blue Hens rallied to win the game 5-3.
It was then off to South Carolina to take on both Wagner College and Presbyterian College. It was a dominating performance against Wagner, as the Vikings got two home runs from Bajusz and RBIs from Ward, Fernette, Ettinger and Hysong to make the score 13-3 in the fifth inning, ending the game by the mercy rule. The same could not be said for the game against Presbyterian. Cleveland State couldn’t hold the 1-0 lead after a Tucker RBI in the second inning, as they fell 2-1.
Bajusz has three home runs and eight RBIs, both of which lead the team. With a fast start to the season, Bajusz knows how important keeping the pace is for the team. With the struggles of the past two seasons, Bajusz hopes that this start can help the team as the season goes on.
“A fast start to the season means a lot to our team,” Bajusz said. “We didn’t have as much success as we would have liked the past two seasons, but we are working hard to establish a winning culture for CSU softball, so a strong, fast start that we can carry over to conference games is super important.”
The Vikings will be on the road for a majority of the season’s start, with their first home game on March 24 against Robert Morris University.