Six straight Atlantic 10 titles and eight NCAA Tournament appearances over the last decade have thrust the Rams into the national spotlight and cemented their place as one of the nation’s best softball teams.
Last year, a 33-23 overall mark, including a stellar 18-4 showing in conference play, resulted in another NCAA Regional appearance.
“UMass was already planning their travel and hotel reservations for their regional before the tournament started after sweeping us a few weeks before playoffs,” said sophomore Kelly Bright, who will have an elevated role on the 2019 squad. “We ended up beating them twice when it mattered and they had to watch us at LSU from their couches at home.”
Losses to No. 11 LSU and No. 21 Louisiana halted Fordham’s special season, as the Rams bowed out early in the NCAA Softball tournament.
After a legendary 17-year tenure in maroon and white, head coach Bridget Orchard departed for Villanova to pursue her dream job, having an unfamiliar empty space at Rose Hill.
Fordham wasted little time finding her successor in former mentee Melissa Inouye, who will be stepping into enormous shoes.
It’s not easy fulfilling a standard of excellence, but tapping a former Orchard assistant with six years of head coaching experience at Iona, including two MAAC Coach of the Year honors, was considered a home run.
“She has a true knowledge of the program and the university,” said Director of Athletics Dave Roach in his official statement. “We look forward to working with Coach Inouye in the years to come.”
An extremely experienced group, highlighted by several players Inouye is familiar with, will aid the transition.
“I think our team has adjusted nicely to the new coaching staff. They’ve made a significant effort to get to know us all on a personal level which I think has helped our team dynamic tremendously,” said Bright. “Coach Melissa and the rest of the staff give us the same level of energy, effort, communication, and commitment that they expect back from us and that’s pretty comforting as a player.”
The Rams lose Seniors Lauren Quense (.348 OBP, 4.75 ERA) and Madi Shaw (13 HR, .436 OBP) to graduation, Junior Skylar Johnston (.315, 14 HR) to N.C. State and, most notably, sophomore Paige Rauch (16 HR, 1.66 ERA), who followed Orchard to Villanova after an outstanding Atlantic Rookie of the Year campaign in 2018.
However, a vast majority of last year’s group returns, along with an impressive freshman core, including Cedar Grove, N.J. native infielder Sarah Taffet, a second-team All-American in high school, Bridgeport, Connecticut’s All-Area star outfielder Gigi Speer, Dumont, N.J. All-County selection pitcher Makenzie McGrath, and Hamilton, N.J.’s infielder Julia Martine, who raked to a .477 batting average over a four-year Hamilton West high school career.
“We are genuinely a family, even more so than last year. I would trust each and every one of these girls with my life, including the freshmen,” said Bright. “We spend all day at practice and workouts as a team and still want to get dinner and hang out in our free time together. I think that in order to be successful this year we’re going to need every single player to buy into the system and contribute to each game.”
Perhaps the most welcome sign is the return of senior First-Team All-Conference outfielder Chelsea Skrepenak, a-middle-of-the-lineup force who slashed .331/.395/.548 with eight home runs last year.
2018 A-10 Championship Most Outstanding Player and Second-Team All-Conference junior Madie Aughinbaugh will be back to anchor the pitching staff and fill Rauch’s void. She led the rotation with 157 innings logged in 2018, and completed 15 of the 26 games she started, along with eight shutouts, working to the tune of a 2.99 ERA.
“There’s some talk of this being the year that the Rams finally break the streak and lose the throne, but that only fuels our fire more,” said Bright. “All of our players and coaches want to win and we’re going to do whatever we can to make that happen.”
Tags: Atlantic 10, Emmanuel Berbari, softball, Spring Preview
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