After a long year, which has been plagued by Covid-19, the Marist Softball team is back and ready to play. After having their season shortened last year due to the spread of Covid-19, the Red Foxes are hoping for a fresh start in 2021.
Last season, the Red Foxes had a record of 10-9 before the season was cut short. The team had a better 19 game start in 2020 than they did in 2019, but late in 2019 the team hit its stride and finished with an overall record of 35-22. They had an outstanding 16-4 conference record that gave them the number one overall seed in the MAAC Tournament.
Since the team went 10-9 last season, their season went up and down. In their first seven games they started 4-3. After that, they went on a four-game losing streak, bringing their record down to 4-7. The Red Foxes finished out the rest of their shortened season 6-2.
Luckily for Marist, the NCAA granted an extra year of eligibility to spring athletes and the team was able to have some of their seniors from last year come back and compete. Someone in particular that fits that mold is graduate student Ali Milam. She has had a batting average of at least .300 the past three seasons and towards the end of last season was really starting to hit her stride. She closed the season on a five-game hitting streak with a .550 batting average going 11-for-20 in that span with seven RBIs and four runs scored.
To go alongside Milam, the Red Foxes have solid pieces surrounding her. This includes senior infielder Caroline Baratta and junior pitcher Calista Phippen. Baratta has been an incredibly consistent player for the Red Foxes since her arrival. Last season, she started in all 19 games and led the team in at-bats (72), hits (25), and doubles (five). Barratta is a life-time .329 hitter for the Red Foxes.
Last season as a sophomore, Phippen went 4-3 in her seven starts with an ERA of 2.61, she also led the team with 45.2 innings pitched, and 48 strikeouts. As a freshman, Phippen led the team in ERA (1.48), wins (19), complete game shutouts (6), innings pitched (160.1) and strikeouts (190). To continue that impressive resume, she ranked top-50 in the NCAA in ERA (No. 25) and total strikeouts (No.46).
Head coach Joe Asuanio is entering his 13th season as that role in this program and he, like the players, could not be more excited to get back onto the diamond. The crushing ending to last season has made him and his team even more excited for the 2021 season.
“When the season was kind of pulled out from under us, we were getting ready to get on a plane to go for spring break and we were called back,”Ausanio said. “I think just the suddenness of that ending was the thing that was probably the most difficult for these kids.”
“To be able to get back out on that field, you could just tell our kids are ready to go,” Ausanio continued. “They’re so excited to get out there and just the energy has been so good and the practices have been good.”
Milam said that it’s really exciting to be back, but also frustrating not knowing exactly when you are going to play because of the spread of Covid-19. But added that the whole team is excited to get back on the field and play in some meaningful games. Baratta added to that sentiment saying that everyone is chomping at the bit to get back out there to start playing games, once the campus pause is lifted.
The campus pause was enacted on March 17 and that pause suspended all active spring sports teams on campus. Marist has been at a disadvantage to start the year as every single MAAC opponent has played, meanwhile, the softball team has yet to step on the field for a game. As for now, the Red Foxes are scheduled to open their season on Saturday, April 17 at home against Monmouth University.
Ausanio has had to be able to make big adjustments to how he would normally do things. The teams has been placed into small pods for when they are indoors. When the team was able to practice outside, they were allowed to practice in a bigger group, while keeping in mind safety protocols. The team has been fortunate enough to not have a single positive test to this point, according to Ausanio.
It has also been a challenge for the players who have had to change their routines this season because of the Covid-19 restrictions in place. Milam said that it’s been very different, adding that it’s also challenging not being able to go to the gym and practice at any time.
Milim continued to say that this has made the team hold each other accountable. Phippen also reiterated that statement, stressing the importance of what everyone on the team has to do individually, and that they all have a responsibility to get better in their own ways. Baratta said that it’s been different not having any preseason games, which in return makes them the most ready they could be when conference play begins.
“I feel like I have three extra coaches on the team,” Ausanio said about Milim, Baratta, and Phippen.
Ausiano continued and said that what separates this team from one’s he has had in the past is “the overall attitude of the team,” adding that there are no big egos and that he thinks it’s important to make practices fun and it’s something the players look forward to. He lets them play music and do other things to try and lighten the mood.
When asked what their goals for the upcoming season were, Milam, Phippen, and Baratta all have the same thing in mind, and that is to win a MAAC Championship, and Phippen added, “maybe even win an NCAA Tournament game.”
“I think this is the best team Marist has had a very long time,” Milam said.
The Red Foxes know that they will have to be patient since the start of their season has now been delayed twice. There is no doubt that when they get the chance to take the field, they will be more than ready to face the challenges the season has to offer.
Edited by Nicholas Stanziale and Bridget Reilly
Photo Credit: Marist Athletics