For the first time in her long softball career, which goes back to when she first picked up a bat at six years old, Allie Piergustavo went through a prolonged slump. After a solid sophomore season where she established herself as a regular starter at St. Bonventure (N.Y.), Piergustavo batted under .200 during her junior season with just one homer and nine RBI.
“Hitters go through slumps all the time and I kind of felt like mine just lasted for 52 games and I’ve never really had to experience that before,” Piergustavo explained in a phone call before the Bonnies head out to Hawaii for their annual spring trip. “Last year I put all this weight on my shoulders that I realized I didn’t need to, but unfortunately I didn’t come to that realization until May.”
This year, she is focused on enjoying the moments with her teammates and her last season of collegiate softball. Piergustavo called her junior season a learning experience, one that she believes will stick with long after she is done playing collegiate softball. It required her to learn techniques for letting things go when they don’t go as planned.
Whatever she has done mentally to get ready for the new season seems to have worked well. It only took her one at-bat to match last spring’s home run total, blasting a two-run homer to center in the second inning of the season opener against Mount St. Mary’s in Norfolk, Va. During the four-game swing through Virginia, Piergustavo is batting .417 and has driven in four runs, starting all four games at first base.
“You’re obviously not going to be at your best every day,” she explained, “but you have to keep pushing no matter what. We have 52 games in a season, so if you’re stuck on one game or one at-bat, then you’re not going to get anywhere. Looking at all the lessons I learned last year from struggling so much, I’m more than prepared for my senior year.”
Piergustavo credited her coaches for keeping faith with her during a rough season, but also her father Rich, an assistant principal at Milford High, for keeping her grounded during regular calls home. She joked that her sister Emily, who was a senior at Milford last year and has had three at-bats this spring as a freshman at UConn, hopefully listened to those conversations and learned from her older sister’s experience.
“I was always told that you have to learn how to fail, how to have a short-term memory, and everything, and I was always, like yeah okay,” said Piergustavo. “But having to experience it last year and actually having to put those mental aspects into play was really eye-opening for me to see what works for me and what didn’t.”
It has been a strong start to the season for Piergustavo individually, but the Bonnies lost all four games on the trip, despite having leads heading into the sixth inning against Mount St. Mary’s and the seventh inning against Hampton. It is a long spring and Piergustavo isn’t worried about a rough weekend ruining a season that she believes has the potential to end in a trip to the Atlantic-10 Conference tournament.
“We were really excited to get outside,” she said, referring to the typical battle with the weather that colleges in this area have to deal with at the start of the season, “and the record doesn’t really reflect some of the things we were able to do this weekend. I expect a lot out of our team this year and this weekend was just a preview of what we can do.”
During the trip to Hawaii, the Bonnies will face perennial power California twice, as well as Utah and Hawaii. The team will then go to Kentucky to take on Bowling Green and Morehead State. It is the kind of competition that will get St. Bonaventure ready to face A-10 competition, which begins with three games against UMass over the weekend of March 23.
“I think it’s only going to make us better and I think it’s really going to push us,” Piergustavo said. “You only get better by playing teams that are better than you. I think having a really competitive spring schedule will only make us readier for the conference season.”
Taking an 0-4 start to the season in stride is easier for an experienced player, as was getting back to the campus after a long bus ride at 4 a.m. on a Tuesday and being ready to go to classes that afternoon. “I might miss it eventually,” she joked. “You definitely have to have good time management and good discipline.”
College softball was something that Piergustavo craved since her first year at Milford. Playing with the likes of Shannon Smith (Kentucky), Lauren Hanna (Brown University), Rachel Levine (Boston University), Caroline Fairbanks (Wheaton College), and other teammates who were in the midst of college recruiting made her realize that it would be fun to keep playing the sport beyond high school.
That was only amplified by the fun of winning back-to-back state titles in her first two years of high school.
“I think it definitely made my decision easier,” said Piergustavo about putting in the effort to play at the next level. “Seeing how much fun they were having playing softball and how excited they were to play in college, I was like, okay this is something I want to do. I’d like to keep playing for four more years.”
A communications major, with a minor in marketing, Piergustavo is already entered into a grad program for marketing and has spent each of the past two summers interning with ESPN at the Little League World Series. There is plenty for her to focus on off the field and plenty to prepare for after graduation, but in the meantime she wants to take a swing at getting the Bonnies back to the A-10 tournament (which this year will be held at UMass’ Sortino Field) for the first time since 2015.
“Having the opportunity to play the A-10 tournament my senior year in my home state would just mean the world to me,” she said. With her collegiate softball career soon coming to a close, Piergustavo also wants to savor the process and enjoy the long season ahead. She said, “I’ve told myself through everything that I would step back and enjoy it.
“Being on a team and travel with them and be able to compete with a bunch of my best friends is something that I will definitely miss.”