None of them wanted this to be their “one last ride.”
However, when it became just that last October the members of the LIU Post softball team were determined to make it one to remember. That it is: the Pioneers’ final season as a program culminated with a berth in the Division II College World Series.
Long Island University announced on Oct. 3 that its Brooklyn and Long Island athletic programs would merge into Division I-level teams. LIU Post’s, including softball, played in Division II.
It was announced last week that the combined teams will be known as the Sharks.
Post’s softball team saved the best for last, winning its school-record 51st game last weekend on Julia Seader’s eighth inning solo homer for a 2-1 victory over host St. Anselm in a decisive third game of the NCAA super regionals. The Pioneers took a 51-11 record and the No. 1 seeding into the College World Series, but fell, 9-4, to Young Harris College on Thursday and were eliminated Friday evening with a 2-0 loss to Grand Valley State.
A bittersweet end to a bittersweet season.
“This is all we have left together. The university is disbanding our program,” senior Ashley Melendez of Levittown said Wednesday from Denver. “Every pitch, every throw and every at-bat — we’ve played like it could be our last. We’ve done that — succeeded and reached for the potential only we can reach together — because it could be our last.”
“There are players on this team who expected to be playing here for years to come and have now been denied that,” junior Ashley Casazza of Wantagh said. “We are now playing for a bigger purpose and this is what it looks like.”
Players on the softball team described initial emotions from sadness to anger to pain and betrayal. The juniors would get no senior season. Though scholarships would be honored and players would be able to try to walk-on to the Division I program in Brooklyn, many would have to consider a transfer to keep playing. And for the students who came great distances to play for the Pioneers — from British Columbia, California and Ohio — there was an uncertainty about what to do.
“I felt heartbroken and betrayed,” Canadian junior Abbey Fortin said. “I’m not from (New York). I don’t think it’s fair that the administration let coaches recruit players — in all sports — from all over the country and the world. We packed our things and came here. Now they were casting us aside.”
"Change is always difficult even when it is necessary. In this case, changes were needed in order to unify our campus community and elevate the entire Long Island University athletics program into an expanded Division I program beginning in the fall," LIU spokesperson Jon Schneider said via email Friday afternoon. "It is a fitting tribute to our players and to an era of excellence that our last Division II softball team will play its last game at the College World Series."
The members of the softball team spent much of that October day together after informing their families of the news and that’s when the bedrock of this team proved stronger than circumstance. No one said they would transfer immediately. None of them quit. Where the women’s volleyball team tried to play its next match with white tape covering the “LIU” on its uniforms (game officials forced them to remove it), none of the softball players rebelled.
“Everyone decided that we wanted to stay together and play for ourselves and each other,” junior Allie Laird of Holbrook said. “The way we dedicated ourselves to each other made us like family. What’s happened is like no other team experience I’ve ever had . . . and I’ve played on many teams.”
LIU Post was good enough to reach the 2018 super regional where it lost to St. Anselm, and returned nearly every key player, so the talent to reach the College World Series was there. But the shared experience of learning the program would not continue added an inspirational ingredient. Their “one last ride” mantra was born.
It not only has been LIU Post’s most successful season, the Pioneers have made stunning comebacks and dramatic wins their stock-in-trade, especially in this postseason.
At the sub-regional in Wilmington, Delaware, Seader hit one homer to beat New Haven, 2-0, and another to snap a 2-2 tie for a 4-2 win over Adelphi before it reached the super regional on Hanna Finkelstein’s walk-off grand slam. In the final game at St. Anselm in Manchester, New Hampshire, Melendez’ RBI single tied the game 1-1 before Seader’s homer proved the difference-maker in extra innings.
“When we’re down we ask ‘why not now? Why not us?’” said Seader, the Division II catcher of the year and one of 10 finalists for national Division II Player of the Year. “There’s nothing in us but fight. This is all we have left.”
Coach Jamie Apicella has taken LIU Post to the NCAA Tournament in 19 of his 21 seasons and previously to the CWS in 2007, ’08, ’11 and ’14. His illustrious run, too, is ending. He was offered a position on the coaching staff of the Division I program that will play in Brooklyn, but didn't take it; he will continue to be an associate athletic director at the school. Even he was blindsided by the Oct. 3 announcement. Today he is simply awed by what his players have done.
“They have played for themselves, the program’s many alumni and its history — you can have nothing but respect and admiration,” he said. “They were shattered in October, but have shown a commitment that is very special. It’s ‘one last ride’ and they are making this last year really count.”
Apicella said that “it’s sad that we’ve been a fixture on the national scene in Division II and won’t be any more,” but he also has regrets for current and former players equally. The LIU Post softball alumni will not have the place they’ve always come to reunite and celebrate past achievements. And those alums have shown unprecedented support this year with events to support the current team and celebrate Apicella and the program.
“You always want to have something to return to and they won’t,” Apicella said.
LIU has offered all its athletes guidance services to help them decide how to handle their next steps. The situation for the juniors in the softball program was especially undesirable. Aside from the mire of getting credits moved in a transfer, most Division II programs are not looking for a player who will only play for one season. Some will choose to remain at the school on scholarship and not play a sport. Others, like Laird, are still going to have to figure next year out.
Fortin said she will play her last season at Adelphi. Sophomore Patty Dun, a Canadian, said she will go to Boston University.
LIU Post, however, will always be in their hearts.