A Sprint to the Finish Line

It was a bit of a chilly Saturday afternoon nearly one month ago on April 17. Maybe not the most perfect weather for a softball double-header, but the Marist Red Foxes did not care about that one bit.

The Red Foxes were fresh off a month-long campus pause that resulted in a postponement of almost half their season. They were coming into a matchup with the Monmouth Hawks who were already 12 games into their season and were sitting at 8-4, which was good enough for first in the MAAC Conference at that point.

Despite not playing or practicing together in practically a year, Marist held their own on that Saturday and split the double-header, having the game 1 loss go into extra innings. The following day, they faced the same MAAC foes once more, this time finding no success and got swept, starting the season 1-3. Coming up next for them was a stretch they had never seen before. They were set to play 20 more games in a span of 15 days.

For reference, before the cancelation of last season, the softball team was able to squeeze in 19 total games. That stretch started on Feb. 15 and lasted until March 8. For those keeping track at home, that’s 19 games in a 23 day stretch.

Since the Red Foxes did not have the luxury to begin conference play last season, we have to go all the way back to 2019 to see what the conference schedule would look like since that is what the 2021 schedule consists of, straight conference play. They played 20 conference games and a total of 26 games from March 30 to May 5, resulting in 26 games in 37 days. You get the theme here. In the past, this team had a much easier schedule, and this was something they were accustomed to.

“Obviously this is an anomaly,” head coach Joe Ausanio said in regards to playing all these games in such a short span. “For our kids to go 0 to 100 in that short amount of time, I give them so much credit for that. They come in every day wanting to play and wanting to win. It’s been a very refreshing experience considering everything we’ve had to deal with.”

Before heading into that Monmouth series, Marist only had one full-team practice and as of April 27, 10 days following their season opener, the Red Foxes only had two full practices under their belts. Ausanio mentioned lightening the practice schedule so his team can rest mentally and physically.

“It’s ever changing,” Ausanio said about the practice schedule. “Just getting these kids mentally and physically prepared for everything that has been thrown at them has been a challenge. However, everybody has just stepped up and taken everything in stride. It’s like they’re numb to changes and always expecting changes.”

One of these “ever changing” aspects is who Ausanio uses in game situations. The 13-year head coach mentioned how he does not have the luxury of testing out his younger players and needs to ride the sure-fire players in order to win the necessary games to enter the postseason.

One of those sure-fire players include senior infielder Caroline Baratta. Baratta has played every single game this season thus far and her stats, as usual, are eye-popping. She has a batting average of .329, has totaled 10 RBI’s, and has a fielding percentage of .962.

“Every minute is so valuable for this season and we need to take advantage of every free minute we have,” Baratta said. “We need to be ready to play almost every day, you never know what’s going to happen.”

Baratta also mentioned the fact that their April 28 double-header matinee scheduled with Siena was moved from Loudonville to Poughkeepsie 12-hours prior to the game. Adding that, “we just need to be ready mentally and physically all the time.”

Another vital player a part of this program’s season and their success is junior pitcher Calista Phippen. Phippen has impressively pitched in at least one game of every single double-header this season. She has totaled 83.2 innings pitched, has a win-loss record of 8-5, and has a low ERA of 1.92. Adding to that, in their final series against St. Peter’s, Marist needed a sweep to ensure a spot in the MAAC tournament and Phippen pitched in both games. In those outings she combined for 10 innings pitched and struck out seven batters.

To continue on her impressive season, in that first game back against Monmouth, she got the notch, and totaled 143 pitches, then went back onto the mound the following day, following that up with 80 pitches. That’s 223 pitches thrown over the stretch of two days.

“To be honest, I’ve never counted my pitches,” Phippen said. “It’s definitely not a different mindset to seasons past. I want to pitch in one or two games of each series. I want to be out there and compete and I’m going to compete until the very end.”

“I’m not someone who gets sore after pitching. I’m someone who’s going to get tired mentally before I get tired physically,” Phippen continued. “I just need to keep going and do what I need to do for my team. I’m 100% there every game.”

When asked about one of the hardships from this pandemic riddled, shortened, and quickened season, Baratta quickly mentioned the trust between her and her teammates. The team was not able to travel the usual five straight weekends prior to their conference schedule beginning.

“I think most of the trust that we build comes from the pre-conference tournaments,” Baratta said. “Being around each other that much, we build so much trust. We create so many things like inside jokes and we just like to joke around with each other. It was especially hard because we didn’t get that experience.”

“It also doesn’t help that we haven’t been able to practice,” Phippen added to the hardships of this season. “But with that being said, we all trust each other and support each other. We trust each other enough to get through this season.”

The Red Foxes completed their regular season and squeaked into the MAAC tournament as the eighth seed. They finished 12-10 during the regular season and ended up winning 9 of their final 13 games. They proceeded to sweep the number one overall seed in the tournament in Monmouth.

After that series, Marist entered the round robin semifinal tournament where they were able to pick up one win, but they proceeded to lose back-to-back one run games, costing them their season. Sixth seeded Manhattan went on to become champions of the MAAC after they defeated the Red Foxes in the round robin. 

It was a heartbreaking end to a quick season for Marist, but if this season proved one thing, it is that this group is resilient. They have their eyes set on next season, and are hopeful of no delays or cancelations to their season for the first time in two years.

Edited by Ricardo Martinez and Mackenzie Meaney

Photo by Marist Athletics

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