Foxes return to sweep home Poughkeepsie
After several road trips that tallied more miles than Marist has students, the Red Foxes softball team finally returned home this week. More than happy to return to the friendly confines of Gartland Field, the Foxes disposed of defending MAAC champion Fairfield on Sunday before defeating inter-conference foe Lafayette on Wednesday, completing the sweep in their triumphant return to the Hudson Valley.
To top things off, head coach Joe Ausanio captured his 100th victory as Marist manager. While he's certainly pleased with the milestone, it's the least of his priorities.
"Honestly, it feels good, but I put no emphasis on it," Ausanio said following the Wednesday games. "It's a testament to the kids and how well they have performed."
Now in his fifth year in Poughkeepsie, Ausanio's first two teams won a combined 26 games, but the former New York Yankees reliever has got his team believing that they can capture an elusive MAAC title. With the conference championship tournament returning to campus this May, his players realize the importance of a good start at home.
"There's no better feeling than winning at home," said pitcher Janine Lalli, who gave up just one hit in a complete game shutout of Lafayette. "We're very confident now as we hit the road again for MAAC play."
Before finally returning home, the Foxes (13-15, 4-0), whose previous travels took them from the streets of Baltimore to the beaches of San Diego, made some brief stops in Hempstead, N.Y. and South Orange, N.J.
Despite taking just one of the four games, a win over Big East member Seton Hall, the Tri-State trip gave the Foxes the confidence they needed upon their return home. "We played some great competition," said captain Emily Osterhaus, who took home MAAC Pitcher of the Week honors yet again. "We played a Hofstra team that made some noise in the tournament last year pretty well and then we split with Seton Hall. It's really nice to come here and play well. The quick trip helped us get mentally tougher."
Osterhaus personified that psychological advantage in Sunday's Poughkeepsie debut. Osterhaus played every inning of the Foxes' sweep of the Stags, throwing a combined 17 innings in the Sunday double feature at Gartland.
Game One, which advanced to ten innings, came to a merciful end when shortstop Krysten Van Natta's first hit of day drove in the winning run. Osterhaus then threw a standard seven frames in Game Two, giving up just one run (three total on the day), in the 3-1 victory. Catcher Alyssa Zahka, who's monster week gave her the team lead in batting average at .368, provided all the offense the Foxes would need, smashing a two-run home run in the bottom half of the opening stanza.
Wednesday was more of the same for the Red Foxes. As the sky became darker and bleaker over the Marist campus, so did the Leopards' chances of escaping New York with a win. The Foxes kicked off their afternoon with a 5-2 victory, which saw pitcher Melanie White retire eight Leopards on strikes in her complete game shutout.
The Foxes' other captain, third baseman Danielle Koltz drove in two runs, as did second baseman Nicole Cheek. Despite her freshman status, Cheek has been a huge contributor to the upstart Foxes, slugging a team-high .352 "It's great being a part of the team, and knowing I'm making an impact," Cheek said. "(Coach Ausanio) and my teammates have really made me feel welcome and have given me some great knowledge in this exciting opportunity."
For the encore, the Foxes bats rose to the occasion. The Foxes mercy-ruled the exasperated Leopards, using the long ball to secure another win. While Cheek bashed another homer to ensure the win, her team high seventh, right fielder Aly Kelmmer ensured Lalli's efforts would not be in vain. After hitting her first home run of the year in front of hometown fans on Sunday, Klemmer's three-run blast to right field put the game out of reach, and the Foxes breezed to an 8-0 win.
"We made some adjustments for the homestand," said Klemmer, who came directly from a science lab to perform her afternoon heroics. "It was really important that we kept the intensity up for a non-conference game after the big conference wins on Sunday."
Despite the tremendous accomplishment, Ausanio diverted the attention from him to his players. "I'm real proud of them," he added. "I'm very proud of them, they came through big in a mid-week doubleheader."
His players, meanwhile, expressed nothing but the utmost respect for the skipper. "100 wins is very telling," Klemmer said. "He came in when this program was in a rough spot, and it's made a great transition."
Osterhaus, a member of Ausanio's first recruiting class, agreed. "It's really nice to be a part of his 100th win," she said.
Lalli was excited to be part of the celebration. "We didn't know it was (100 wins)," she said. "But it's really nice to contribute."
With the century win behind them, the Foxes move on to more MAAC play, and more time on the road. The tour of New York continues with visits to Canisius and Niagara. "We have four on the weekend, and they'll all be tough," Ausanio said. "Canisius is a proven winner, and it'll be no joke."
However, the Foxes are filled with confidence following their debut in front of their fans. It's also given them the confidence to believe they can win when the conference converges in Poughkeepsie this May. "We're built to win now, and we've shown we can win here," said an ambitious Lalli. "And we're going to win that MAAC title."
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