Broken hearts on the softball diamond

By: Isaac Donsky, Staff Writer

File Photo by: Amanda Bosse/The Towerlight

Anger. Heartbreak. Hopelessness. These are just a few of the feelings swirling around the minds of Towson’s softball team when its members got the news that their 2020 season would end after 15 games.

“We knew it was coming,” senior pitcher Ashley Cruise said. “But we did not want to believe it.”

The Tigers are just one of the thousands of spring and winter college sports programs across the country that had their seasons canceled by the NCAA due to the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. Towson was heading to practice on March 12 when they got the news.

“Hearing coach tell us they suspended play was horrible,” senior utility Jessica Swistock said. “Myself and the other seniors were visibly upset. I felt helpless because it was something so out of our control.”

The Tigers were 8-7 on the year before the cancellation, coming off a strong weekend of play at home, going 3-1 in what would be their final four games of the season. With conference play just a few weeks away, Towson was looking forward to the remaining 38 games of the season.

“Every win we had up until the point of cancellation was a team win,” senior second baseman Jaclyn Mounie said. “We were starting to come together and fix mistakes we were making in the beginning. Most importantly, we were having fun and working hard.”

For the seniors entering their last year of play, the cancellation stung hardest.

“It was heartbreaking,” Mounie said. “I couldn’t believe my four years of hard work and 15 years of playing this sport ended like this.”

Primarily used as a pinch-runner in her first two seasons, Mounie became a starter in 2019 before injuries sidelined her. She was on track for a career year prior to the cancellation. Her 15 hits to start the year tied her total from 2019, and her batting average of .319 was a career high. Her three hits against La Salle tied her career high she set less than a month ago.

“All I can say is I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunities and friendships this program has given me,” Mounie said. “It has been a great ride, especially with my fellow seniors.”

With three long softball-less months left in the semester, the Tigers seniors have been left with plenty of time to reflect on their time with the team. Senior utility Jessica Swistock, a starter the past three years who contributed 13 hits and six RBI’s in 2020, reflected on some of her favorite memories from her time with the team, such as celebrating the achievements of previous senior classes.

“We would watch the senior slideshow during pre-game in the locker room,” Swistock said. “Then after the game everyone and their families would gather together, reminiscing and eating good food. It’s so nostalgic and so much fun.”

Swistock added that she and the other seniors finally felt like this was going to be their year to prove themselves to their coaches and the rest of the team.

“I wish I was able to take in the moment of our last gameday before it was too late,” Swistock said.

Swistock’s thoughts were echoed by Cruise, who pitched 3.2 innings for Towson in the penultimate game of the season against Iona.

“A lot of times as a senior you know when it might be your last game,” Cruise said. “I am sad for my other seniors that we don’t really get to write our own book. It was kind of written for us.”

Cruise transferred to Towson from East Carolina in 2018. The Tigers provided a second chance for Cruise, who had to deal with both Tommy John surgery and the passing of her father while playing for the Pirates. In her brief time with Towson, Cruise amassed a 3-6 record with 34 career strikeouts. Playing time had been limited for her due to surgery on her ankle in September 2019.

“I had worked so hard to get back on the field through each hurdle, just for it to end like this,” Cruise said. “But one thing that makes it okay in my eyes is that hopefully, by canceling all these sporting events, it saves lives. In the big picture, it is not really about us, but our country as a whole. Even if canceling our season saves just one life, then I am thankful for that.”

There may be some hope for the seniors to get back on the field come 2021. The NCAA is working on a plan for athletes in winter and spring sports to return for an extra year. The question now becomes whether the seniors will take the option to return.

“Honestly, I am not really sure,” Cruise said. “I haven’t even thought about this just because this seems so unreal. I don’t know if I am ready to hang the cleats up yet.”

Some seniors, like Swistock, have already accepted jobs after the semester ends, so returning for an extra year may be off the table. Others have yet to make the decision. Regardless, all are thankful for the opportunity to play for Towson softball.

“This can serve as a lesson to all other players for years to come,” said Cruise. “Treat every game and practice like it is your last! Towson softball isn’t done yet.”

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