Aughinbaugh flying high at Fordham University
Port Tobacco resident leads softball to A-10 championship
Try as she might, Madie Aughinbaugh was just unable to get the bunt down May 14 against the University of Massachusetts. So with two strikes staring her in the face, Aughinbaugh swung away and the result was even better than she could have imagined.
The Fordham University (N.Y.) freshman — a St. Mary’s Ryken High School graduate from Port Tobacco — promptly lined a single down the right-field line to score Chelsea Skrepenak from second base and defeat the Minutemen 2-1 in nine innings to clinch the Atlantic 10 softball championship.
Earlier in the day, UMass forced the must-win game when it rallied to score two runs in the seventh and one in the eighth to earn a 3-2 win.
In the title game, Aughinbaugh scored the tying run in the fifth inning and later strode to the plate with one out in the ninth and Skrepenak on second.
“I was actually supposed to get the bunt down and I didn’t get it down, so I had to get my stuff together and come through for my teammates,” Aughinbaugh said. “The pitcher was jamming me in all day; she hadn’t given me anything outside but she gave me an outside pitch — and that’s what I like — and I drove it.
“[As I’m running to first,] I was watching home plate and thinking, ‘Come on Chelsea, get home, get home, and we win.’ That was all I was thinking about. I didn’t even go to second [right away] because [my run] didn’t matter. I’d just stay here and if Chelsea gets home, we’re good.”
Skrepenak scored and the Rams clinched their fifth-straight conference championship.
“They all went home to cheer on Chelsea and then they came out to me and I got a huge dogpile,” Aughinbaugh said. “And it was probably, to this day, the best moment I’ve had in my softball career. It was pretty amazing.”
“Who else can do something like that under pressure?,” asked St. Mary’s Ryken head softball coach Jim Sewell. “She. Comes. Through. We had her at leadoff batter [at SMR] because her onbase percentage was off the charts. She was going to get on base, you could set your clock by it.”
Aughinbaugh herself also picked up the win after she allowed a run on 13 hits and struck out five during a 115-pitch afternoon.
“They hit me pretty good in our conference series,” Aughinbaugh said, referring to a 5-4 loss to UMass on April 14, “so just to bounce back from that and end on a good note was very exciting.”
“It was really nice to see her peak at the right time,” Fordham head coach Bridget Orchard said. “You couldn’t have [written] it any better. She had her first start against [No. 10] Arizona [on Feb. 10] and she didn’t win that, but I think that helped her prepare for those moments.”
Aughinbaugh finished the season 18-5 with 12 complete games and an ERA of 2.00. She appeared in 32 games and in 140 innings allowed 133 hits, walked 25 and struck out 88. Opponents batted .241 against her.
“I think the biggest challenge I had was when I was in high school I didn’t really have to place the ball as well as you do in college just because the competition level is extremely different,” said Aughinbaugh, who throws a rise, curve, change-up and dropball. “But just having the mindset that no one will beat me really helps.”
“She’s the best player I ever coached,” said Sewell, who has coached kids and adults the past 30 years. “Oh my God, yes. She’s got the whole package. She can field, she can catch, she can hit and my God she was lights out when it came to pitching. She would just pick the batters apart. She’s smart. Everything she does is based on what she sees and evaluates. She’s not just a pitching machine out there. She’s doing her work and analyzing you and finding your weaknesses.”
Aughinbaugh only picked up a bat midway through the season after having surgery to repair a torn UCL on her throwing hand last May but still hit .286 with 30 hits, including three doubles and a triple. She also added 13 RBIs and scored 21 runs.
“She really stepped up in big situations when we needed her, especially as a freshman,” Orchard said. “We put her in some key roles and she really excelled. We were hoping she’d come in and [contribute], but it’s always a surprise when a freshman can come in and step in and fill some big shoes. When everything was on the line, she got better and that’s a testament to her personality and her willingness to do whatever it takes. Her big thing is she’s a winner and you can tell that the bigger the stage the better she played.”
The Rams finished the season 46-17 (18-5 Atlantic 10) and were 13 of 17 at home. Fordham was eliminated by No. 21 Brigham Young University in the NCAA’s Salt Lake City Regional.
The plan was for Aughinbaugh to come in and focus on her pitching her freshman year, but when starting shortstop Amy Van Hoven broke her leg, Orchard was forced to shuffle her lineup.
“I couldn’t tell you the last time I played a position because I always pitched,” she said, “but it was really fun. I enjoyed it a lot, but I had a lot to learn.”
“For her to do all three [pitching, hitting and fielding] for us was definitely something we didn’t expect her to come in and do right away, but she was so good at it,” Orchard said. “We put her out there and she really didn’t miss a beat.”
The Rams will lose six players to graduation, including right-handed pitcher Lauren Quense, who was 22-11 this year.
“I think she’s just really coming into her own and I think she’s going to get bigger and stronger and she’s going to add more speed and more spin to her ball and really be able to locate her pitches,” Orchard said. “Next year she’ll be more our ace and we’ll be able to refine her a little bit more. She works really hard so there’s no doubt she’ll get better.”
Aughinbaugh was in constant contact with Florida State University, but reluctantly agreed to make a visit to Fordham on her father, Rob’s advice.
Orchard recalled the first time she saw Aughinbaugh pitch during a tournament in New Jersey.
“She was striking everybody out,” she said. “She had all this movement, she was throwing a great riseball and ... we immediately saw she had success on the field, but we could also tell she had desire. She was locked in and focused and a competitor.”
“She can play any position and play it at the very top skill-wise,” Sewell said. “Absolutely it’s a big jump [to college] and [her season] just seals it for me that she is the real deal. Fordham got a gold mine.”
Fordham’s Madie Aughinbaugh, a St. Mary’s Ryken High School graduate from Port Tobacco, lays down a bunt against St. Louis University during the Atlantic 10 Conference championship. The Rams went on to win the program’s fifth-straight title on Aughinbaugh’s game-winning hit versus UMass.