After falling just short of a MAAC title a year ago at the hands of Monmouth, Marist softball enters 2020 with a yet another chance at redemption. With a record of 35-22 in 2019, most of their key players will be returning from last year’s run. What makes the team so unique is that they’ll combine last year’s team experience with a newfound youth, a confident mixture that head coach Joe Ausanio sees as a growing opportunity. From sophomore ace pitcher Calista Phippen to one of the school’s best hitters of all-time, senior outfielder Ali Milam, they’re ready for another shot at the top.
“When you get to the final game… to end up on the short side of the stick, it instills a little fire under you,” Ausanio said of last season’s loss fueling his team’s collective motivation this season. He noticed that his players had turned this fire into an “all business” mentality. This past fall, that manifested itself in an 8-0 preseason campaign. The whole team was in on the success, as Marist had five players who were awarded for their excellent play and named preseason All-MAAC. The five included red-shirt senior infielder Claire Oberdorf, Milam, junior infielder Caroline Baratta, sophomore catcher Kaley Coltrain, and, of course, Phippen. The age range in this group is an example of how much talent there is spread across the roster.
Another change made during the off-season was the adjustment in their schedule. “We have three top-25 teams this year,” Ausanio said, “and playing that type of competition is going to prepare us for the teams in our conference.” Despite being voted second to Monmouth in the preseason, playing against these high-level teams will provide valuable experience to a young team.
Highlighting the group is Milam, who has been an absolute force for the Red Foxes the past two years. Last year, Milam led the team in nearly every batting statistics category, including hitting nine home runs, 47 RBIs, and accounting for 107 total bases. What might be the most impressive stat of them all is that she was walked more (28 times) than she struck out (22). Milam currently has two of the top ten spots for most RBIs in a season, the 47 coming from 2019, and her 54 from 2018, good enough to tie the number one spot for all time. The senior will have a bat’s crack at a plethora of other offensive records but is more focused on the team’s overall success and her senior season, saying, “It’s my last year… I just want to enjoy it and go out having fun.”
Two other players that will have huge seasons for Marist are Oberdorf and Baratta. Oberdorf has become Ausanio’s swiss army knife, starting 46 games last year (34 at third base, 11 at catcher, and one at second base). The redshirt senior will have one last chance at a MAAC title to complete her career. “I’m using the previous knowledge I’ve gotten from the past four years to help the team in any way,” she said. Oberdorf will be expected to lead this team again, and she currently leads the Red Foxes with 18 stolen bases. Combined with her position versatility, this makes her one of the great players that the Red Foxes have at their disposal. This year, she’s specifically looking to “get on base and make all my plays.”
For Baratta, she has only scratched the surface of her potential and is in line for a huge junior season. Her freshman year concluded as she was honored as the conference’s Rookie of the Year, and her sophomore season ended with her second straight All-MAAC team appearance. In the 116 games she’s competed in over the past two seasons, Baratta has proven she’s a consistent triple threat. In the field, she is a fantastic defender; her 958% fielding percentage speaks to her prowess on defense. Where she is the most difficult for the opposition is at the plate. Barrata has an ability to constantly make contact, leading the team last season with 67 hits. Additionally, her career batting average is .320. So smart and willing to score, Baratta gets even better on the bases, where she scored 42 times from last year.
This team has the bats, and the gloves to compete with the best, but, the biggest question mark is on the pitching rotation. After 2019, the team lost three very experienced pitchers; Megan Beiermeister, Brooke Peterson, and Kallen Leeseberg all graduated, leaving a pretty big hole in what was an outstanding bullpen last year. Leading the way as the ace on the team is, as mentioned, Calista Phippen. The sophomore’s freshman year was easily one of the best pitching seasons in school history.
Phippen has already stamped her mark here at Marist. Six shutouts, an ERA of 1.48, 190 strikeouts, and 19 wins are all good enough to hold spots in the school’s top 10 season records. Doing this in her first season just begs the question: what will she do next? “She has said it herself, she loves the fact that she has girls on our team who are going to push her to better, and she isn’t going to feel like everything is on her shoulders,” Ausanio said.
Last year’s Co-Rookie of the Year will be paired with junior Nicole Teague, then freshmen Kiley Myers and Meghan Haff. Ausanio doesn’t expect there to be a dip in play from his rotation despite the three key departures and instead commented on how much faith he has in these four. “Nicole Teague is a junior who’s pitched in a lot of big games for us, and we have two freshmen who are absolutely outstanding.”
This Friday, the softball team will be traveling down to Nashville, Tennessee to take on Green Bay in their opening tournament. For a team full of youth, there will be plenty of excitement to look forward to under Ausanio. With youth, there can also be a lack of experience in big-time moments, so the team will depend on the few upperclassmen to prepare them for what will be a race for the MAAC against Monmouth. If this team reaches its massive potential, it could go down as one of the school’s most talented teams in program history.
Edited by Mackenzie Meaney and Will Bjarnar
Header photo from Marist Athletics