Marist Softball Goes Into MAAC Play Battle-Tested

After finishing last season with a tough loss against Siena in the MAAC Tournament, the Marist softball team looks for redemption in the upcoming 2023 season. 

The Red Foxes once again entered with high expectations as they were ranked second in the MAAC Coaches Poll, receiving 102 points and one first-place vote. Last season they were ranked number one in the poll but didn’t reach that projection, finishing with the fifth-best record in conference play. During the 2022 campaign, the Red Foxes finished five games under .500 going 25-30 with an 11-10 record in the MAAC. 

A new season always brings change, and that is certainly the case for the Red Foxes. This season the Red Foxes will be without shortstop and former captain Caroline Baratta, who is now an assistant coach, and former catcher Kaley Coltrain is also no longer a part of the squad. Starting left fielder Hailee Jantorno, Morgan Gianelle, and Alyssa Yarem, all graduated as well. 

The Red Foxes will also be without junior captain third baseman Miah McDonald who suffered a torn labrum in her shoulder during the fall. McDonald came into her own last season starting nearly every game at third base and was a force at the plate and in the field. 

Last season McDonald led the MAAC in RBIs with 47 and led the team with a .379 batting average, 1.061 OPS, .440 OBP, and .621 slugging. At the hot corner, McDonald steadily led the team with 129 assists and a .926 fielding percentage. As a result, McDonald was named First-Team All-MAAC, All-ECAC, and a member of the MAAC All-Championship Team. 

For Marist head coach Joe Ausanio, losing McDonald for the entire season is a “huge” loss for the team, especially when considering how good she was last season. 

“In my opinion, last year, she was the player of the year in the conference. The fact that she did not win, I thought was a travesty,” said Ausanio. 

Luckily for Ausanio, junior Alyssa Grupp, who primarily plays second base, has transitioned over to third in light of McDonald’s absence. Last year Grupp was dominant at the plate hitting .342, with a .878 OPS, and a .403 OBP. Her success last season earned her a selection to the preseason All-MAAC Team, making her the only Red Fox to be selected. This season she has picked up right where she left off hitting .333 with an OBP of .419. 

Some of the new faces who have already made a name for themselves are freshman outfielder Peyton Pusey, freshman infielder Reese Wilson, and freshman catcher Isabella Manory. Pusey is hitting .304, Wilson’s average is .255, and Manory is getting on base at a .472 clip.

All three have made an immediate impact, and their teammates feel lucky to play alongside them. 

“I think Bella has killed it behind the plate. She’s really stepped up. Peyton is a gamer; she steps on that field and is one of the most competitive people I’ve ever played with. Reese is great, her bat will definitely help us in the MAAC,” said senior captain right fielder Shea Walsh. 

But none have burst onto the scene like redshirt freshman infielder Haley Ahr. After missing all of last season due to an ankle injury Ahr has started off the season on fire. 

Five weeks into the season Ahr has been named MAAC Player and Rookie of the Week three times. In a five-game span, Ahr hit .529 with a 1.197 OPS (.647 slugging and .550 on base) during the South Florida Showdown. During that stretch, she also had six RBIs and two multi-hit games. 

So far this season, Ahr has started all 26 games, and at the plate, she is hitting .407 with one home run and 28 RBIs, a .467 OBP, and a .568 slugging percentage. In the field, Ahr has been a swiss army knife playing three different infield positions (first base, second base, and shortstop).   

In non-conference play so far the Red Foxes are 8-18 and have won only one of their last 10 games. The team believes that a lot of that can be attributed to the schedule that they’ve had, where they faced some stiff competition. 

“We’ve played a bunch of schools that are ranked in the top 100 between Nevada, Lehigh, South Florida, Iowa, Illinois, and obviously Texas, [a] top 10 team. So we’ve played a very, very difficult schedule,” said Ausanio. 

The Red Foxes’ demanding schedule was no accident as Ausanio, who puts together the schedule every year, wanted his team to face off against some of the best in the country for numerous reasons. The biggest was because he wants the team ready to face off against the best teams in the country if they win the MAAC and play in the NCAA Tournament. 

Despite the losing record, the Red Foxes feel they have much to be positive about. 

“I don’t think our record accurately reflects how this team can play. We do have to clean up some things in the field a little bit and we have to keep our energy up but hitting wise we’ve been fantastic [and our] pitching has been pretty good. I think we clean up some small things and we will be completely fine,” said graduate student captain pitcher Calista Phippen. 

One of the good and bad elements for the Red Foxes this season has been the fact that they have been in so many close games with tough competition. 11 of their 18 losses this season have been by four runs or fewer. 

So far the Red Foxes’ pitching has been strong thanks to Phippen, who currently has an ERA of 2.04 and senior Kiley Myers has an ERA of 2.90. The team as a whole has an ERA of 3.45, a significant improvement over last year’s non-conference slate.

The Red Foxes ended their non-conference schedule on a high note, sweeping Delaware State in a doubleheader. Marist was supposed to host Niagara on Saturday to start their MAAC season, but those games were moved to Monday. 

That means the Red Foxes will open conference play on Sunday against the reigning conference champion Canisius Golden Griffins, the team that was ahead of them in the MAAC Preseason Poll.

The Red Foxes certainly have all of the talent, the biggest question is, can they do all of the little things on a consistent basis?

Edited by Ricardo Martinez and Jonathan Kinane

Photo from Marist Athletics via Stockton Photo

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