NORMAN — Marist is a small school in Poughkeepsie, New York. But that hasn’t stopped the Red Foxes from seeking out the highest levels of competition.
Marist, which will meet top-ranked Oklahoma at 7:30 Friday at Marita Hynes Field in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, has routinely sought to compete against teams from much larger schools under coach Joe Ausanio.
This year that meant a trip to the San Diego Classic, where the Red Foxes squared off against teams including UNLV and Texas Tech. The Red Foxes didn’t pick up a win at the event despite outhitting the Red Raiders when they played, but the experience did benefit the Red Foxes once conference play began.
Marist competes in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, a league where typically only the tournament winner advances to the NCAA tournament field of 64. After finishing the conference schedule 10-6 and entering the MAAC tournament seeded third, that wasn’t supposed to be the Red Foxes.
But, possibly drawing on their experience in big games from the difficult early-season schedule, the Red Foxes caught fire in the tournament. They allowed just three runs through three games as they pulled off a pair of upsets over second-seeded Fairfield sandwiched around a 2-0 win over Niagara to take the title, and the tournament invite, with them.
Not that the wins came easily. Senior pitcher Emily Osterhaus was the workhorse for the Red Foxes throughout the tournament. Osterhaus, who was named tournament MVP, didn’t allow a baserunner through the final two innings of the championship tilt and punched the Red Foxes ticket to the tournament when she punched out Fairfield’s Brianna Levick to end the game.
“I want the kids to enjoy this,” Ausanio said after the game. “They’ve proven they can do this. Everyone knows how much improved we are. It’s amazing for these kids, particularly for the seniors.”
As a reward, the Red Foxes were sent to Norman, where they must face a 47-4 OU squad that has been ranked No. 1 most of the season and earned the top overall seed in the tournament.
A trip to Oklahoma for just the team’s second-ever tournament appearance is a long way from where the program was when Ausanio took the reins five years ago.
Recruiting his first class, including Osterhaus, the former New York Yankees player was blunt.
“Our program is not in good shape now,” Ausiano told the recruits. “I need you to come here and make it better.”
They did, and four years later the Red Foxes have a NCAA tournament berth and a shot at OU on the national stage to show for it.
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