Softball Aims to Take the Atlantic 10


Softball returns all 16 of its players in what will be a crucial key to navigating the challenges and finding success in this uncertain season. (Courtesy of Fordham Athletics)

The walls of Bahoshy Field show some impressive accolades for Fordham Softball. Eight Atlantic 10 titles, including seven in a row, and a similar number of NCAA Tournament appearances. It is a history of success that the program looks to continue in 2021, but right now the focus is on today.

Speaking to head coach Melissa Inouye, that day was Feb. 9. Now, it is Feb. 17 and the Rams, like all other Fordham Athletics programs, are facing the challenge of a two-week shutdown as they prepare to open their season now against the University at Albany on March 5, forced to cancel their stint against Lehigh University on Feb. 28.

The journey to this point goes back to March, where the team saw their season cut short on the brink of Atlantic 10 play with a 7-13 record to show for it. 

“It was pretty devastating to look at the eyes of 16 women and basically telling them their season is done,” said Coach Inouye about that time. Since then, it has been a long wait for Softball, but they have been finding ways to prepare for the season ahead.

That includes the familiar Zoom meetings, bi-weekly player meetings and two full months of training in the fall. The exhibition matches the team is accustomed to were not an option this year, replaced by intrasquad scrimmages instead.

“We were fortunate that the university and the athletic department were able to put us in a position to be able to train,” said Inouye. “I think it was beneficial mentally and physically for us to be back together again in the fall.”

Here in the spring, a full week of practice finished in February prior to team practice on Feb. 9, which is where the Rams stand heading into this two-week hiatus. Regardless of the challenges, the gratitude for being back is still there, particularly so for a team that returns all of its 16 players from last season, and adds three more as well.

“We’re excited that they came back for a fifth year and I think they definitely have some unfinished business if you will, because it was kind of a bad taste from 2020,” said Inouye.

The Rams have not been satisfied these past two seasons, sharing the A-10 championship with George Washington University, who finished atop the preseason coaches’ poll, in 2019 and missing out on the opportunity to claim the conference in 2020. 

They look to satisfy that bad taste in regional divisions culminating in a four-team tournament in May. The Atlantic 10 has split the conference into two pods this season, each consisting of five teams. Fordham is joined by the University of Rhode Island, La Salle University, Saint Joseph’s University and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, with the notable omission of George Washington.

“Since we’re in these two pods and GW is not even in our pod, definitely I think adds a little bit more fuel to the fire. But you know, we’re trying to just focus on us,” said Inouye.

That focus this year is two-fold. Both on fulfilling the expectation Fordham has set, but also rediscovering the joy of the game that has been missing. When asked which is the attitude among the team, Inouye believes it is a bit of both.

“The team is very grateful to be back on campus … and reminded of that too …  But we have a standard here at Fordham that we want to continue to compete for championships and win championships … this team is definitely hungry and we want to get back at it.”

There is hunger from those returning for another year and others becoming healthy again.

One of the most pivotal pieces is graduate student Madie Aughinbaugh. The two-way player and 2019 A-10 Pitcher of the Year leads the Rams both at the plate and on the mound, and looks to do the same this season.

“I think she’s been able to reflect back on her time so far at Fordham and how she wants to kind of go out,” said Inouye. Most impressive has been her ability to grow over her time at Fordham, putting her in the strongest position yet.

“She’s added something to her tool belt every year … She’s not the same pitcher she was as a freshman … which is a credit to her hard work and her ability to never be satisfied,” said Inouye.

Joining Aughinbaugh as captain is senior infielder Brianna Pinto. “The one thing I took away from my experience as being a team captain last year was learning how to lead in pressured situations during a time of uncertainty and how to adapt to everyone’s different personalities with limited time on the field,” said Pinto.

She looks to carry that experience into this season, with the goal of “winning another ring.”

Completing the captain picture is a pair of players the Rams have been without, Kelly Bright and Rachel Hubertus. Bright, a redshirt junior, missed the entire 2019 season due to injury and only saw limited time on the field last year. But for Bright, the struggles go back further than that. 

I haven’t played a full season since sophomore year of high school. 4 knee surgeries and 1 covid-shortened season later, I’m finally going to have another chance to prove myself,” said Bright.

And for Hubertus, one of the team’s most prolific hitters, 2020 came and went without any on-field action, but she calls the quarantine a “blessing in disguise,” both in rehabbing for her final year but also preparing for life after softball.

“Being injured and out of the game for so long really helped me grow as a person and a player. I definitely learned to take things day by day and dealing with hardships have become a lot easier then they were before getting hurt.”

Inouye credits Hubertus for her effort in returning to the field again. “[She] definitely adds immediate experience and leadership as well as offensive power and she has worked her tail off for, God, it seems about a year and a half to get back out on the field.”

That time on the field is valued now more than ever. “It is important for all of us to stick together and appreciate every practice, workout and game that we get to play. I am excited about all the opportunities that will be granted to us,” Pinto said.

Bright shared a similar message. “We just want to take things one day at a time and approach each chance we get to play as if it’s our last. All of us know what it feels like to have the game taken away from us and so we want to make sure no one takes anything for granted,” she said.

Then there is the trio of freshmen: Bella Ayala, Julia Petrovich and Bailey Enoch. At six feet tall, Inouye refers to the latter two as “our twin tower” with a “lot of power at the plate offensively.”

Ayala, on the other hand, will provide “depth and athleticism” across the infield. “She has very smooth hands and she doesn’t play like a freshman,” said Inouye, who looks for all three to enter the fold this season.

Bright echoed that expectation. “[O]ur young girls are super talented and in a year with so much uncertainty — everyone is going to play a role in our success,” she said. “They’re going to play. That’s going to happen. And we’re confident they will all be ready when the time comes.”

That time for Fordham comes at the month’s end. From there ensues a 52-game slate that the Rams are grateful to have in a year like this. Most notably, 34 of the games will be at home.

They will see each opponent in their pod for a four-game series, with an additional one against La Salle and UMass as a home-and-home. Rounding out the conference, the Rams host Saint Bonaventure University and Saint Joe’s, along with the rare road stint against the University of Rhode Island.

Inouye, as well as the players, understand this is likely to change, as it already has, but the hope is simply for the opportunity to play again. “Really just to get back and competing and seeing them smile again on the field and, and achieve things together,” is what Inouye calls the most exciting.

“I’m so excited to see what our team is going to accomplish — we’ve all been so motivated and anxious to get back on the field. I know we’re going to come out firing on all cylinders from the very first pitch,” said Bright.

Hubertus finished with just a reminder of what is at stake. “Our main goal for the spring is to stay resilient and adaptable during these uncertain times; and hopefully we can continue our streak and win our 8th A-10 Championship in a row!”

Resiliency. Adaptability. Victory. That is exactly what the Rams will need to take the A-10.