After a long layoff, the Marist softball team is back and ready to roll as they head into MAAC play. The Red Foxes came into this season with some lofty expectations after being ranked first in the MAAC Preseason Coaches’ poll.
Marist received 98 points and four first-place votes. Fairfield University was right behind them, finishing with 93 points and one first-place vote.
Going into his 13th season at the helm, head coach Joe Ausanio knows that despite the preseason praise, it doesn’t affect his approach to coaching the team.
“Sometimes I wonder maybe it affects the kids a little bit differently, but for me, it doesn’t change the way I approach a game from a strategy standpoint or anything like that,” said Ausanio.
Last season Marist had a solid 15-12 overall record during the regular season, but they really hit their peak during the MAAC Playoffs. Where they went up against the number one seed Monmouth Hawks in the first round. The Red Foxes were the eighth seed, while Monmouth was the number one seed and the favorites to win the tournament.
But Marist had other ideas, as they beat Monmouth twice in a best of three. It was revenge for the Red Foxes who were the one seed in 2019 and were upset by Monmouth in similar circumstances.
This season will be back to normal for Marist considering the fact that they play a lot of non-conference teams to start the season. Last season in a COVID-19 shortened season the Red Foxes only played conference games against other teams in the MAAC. This means that it will be the first time they will be playing with a normal schedule since 2019.
For Ausanio, the most challenging thing about only playing conference games last season was that he couldn’t open up the roster as much as he would have liked.
“It was frustrating because I didn’t get kids as much playing time as I would have normally liked to. I’m real big on trying to get kids playing time early in the season. And I just wasn’t afforded that opportunity last year,” said Ausanio.
The players see the non-conference games as a good experience to get to play other teams that they wouldn’t normally play, and it also gives everyone on the team the chance to get game time that they may not get in conference games. Along with facing teams that they may match up against in the NCAA Tournament if they win the MAAC.
Graduate student shortstop Caroline Baratta said that one of the biggest adjustments that the players will have to make is going from playing in 20 plus games last season to 50 plus games this season. She described it as “a marathon, not a sprint.”
Marist doesn’t play a MAAC team this season until April 2 against Niagara, which is a long way away from their first game of the season which was a 6-1 loss at UNC Wilmington on February 18.
Heading into MAAC play, the Red Foxes sit at 11-15 overall with a doubleheader against Albany remaining before they complete their non-conference schedule. The sub-.500 record is the result of a challenging schedule that saw Marist take a few trips out west and play two ranked teams in Arizona and Arizona State.
Luckily for Marist, most of their core players from last season that were instrumental in the success of the team are back for this season as well.
Three of the most impactful players from last year’s squad were Baratta, senior pitcher Calista Phippen, and senior catcher Kaley Coltrain. All three were named to the Preseason All-MAAC Team.
Baratta started all 27 games at shortstop last season, and she continued her dominance at the plate and in the field. She has been incredibly consistent and reliable her entire college career, entering this season Baratta has started in 158 straight games.
At the plate, Baratta led the team in runs (22), hits (32), doubles (nine), and triples (two). She had a batting average of .340, four home runs, 11 RBIs, .415 OBP, 1.021 OPS, and a .606 slugging percentage.
Defensively, Baratta more than held her own at shortstop. She was named MAAC Defensive Player of the Year after committing only three errors in 90 chances, resulting in her having a .967 fielding percentage.
Coltrain is coming off a monster offensive season where she put people on notice as she showcased her power-hitting prowess. She started in all 26 games that she played in and made them all count. Coltrain was the MAAC leader in batting average (.459), on-base percentage (.551), and slugging percentage (.959). She also set the Red Foxes’ single-season record for batting average. Behind the plate, Coltrain had a .993 fielding percentage in 148 chances.
On the mound, the ace of the pitching staff last season was Phippen. Last season was a huge improvement for Phippen compared to her sophomore season in 2020. In 2021, Phippen went 9-6 with a 1.69 ERA, and a 0.91 WHIP in 99.1 innings. Phippen was in the top 10 in the MAAC in shutouts (three), ERA, third in complete games (12), third in opponents batting average (.198), fourth in strikeouts (96), and fifth in wins (nine).
Unfortunately, Phippen will most likely be out for the season due to an ACL injury she suffered last fall. For her, getting the MAAC preseason award was like “putting candy in front of like a little kid and telling them they can’t have it,” Phippen said.
Not having Phippen is a “tremendous loss,” said Ausanio. “But you know what? She’s been a great teammate and a great captain.” Phippen’s spirit in the dugout during games has become “infectious and contagious,” Ausanio said. “It’s almost like having an extra coach at times on the field.”
So far, the pitching staff has struggled without its ace. Marist’s three pitchers have a combined 5.67 ERA and have dealt 93 walks compared to 122 strikeouts. Freshman Maddie Pleasants has been thrust into the fire, has struggled to a 7.69 ERA, and has issued 70 base on balls against 60 strikeouts.
One of the things that Ausanio loves about this year’s team is the fact that his team is so versatile that some players can play up to four or five different positions. That kind of flexibility is something that Ausanio cherishes having at his disposal.
So far, the Red Foxes have had their struggles with injury in the non-conference, but if they can right the ship and get healthy, the MAAC is still within their grasp.
Edited by Jonathan Kinane and Bridget Reilly
Photo Credit: Marist Athletics