Burns proves that perseverance is the key to success
In a sport like softball, every player is important. From the star outfielder to the designated pinch runner, every player has a role that must be done for the team to have any significant success.
However, no position is put on the spot more often than the pitcher. It’s the most important position on the field, considering no play on a softball field exists without the pitch being thrown. Great teams have fallen because of a lack of pitching, and teams have played above their expectations because of exemplary performances in the circle.
To succeed at a position this isolated and important, a sharp mind and confidence are key. Hofstra softball freshman Madison Burns has developed the needed qualities, but the journey wasn’t easy.
As a kid growing up in Albany, New York, Burns took to softball – especially pitching – at a young age. The interest was garnered from her parents, who had played softball and baseball when they were growing up.
“I fell in love [with softball] at a young age. I started playing when I was 9 [years old],” Burns said. “Ever since then, I’ve loved it. So, I kept playing.”
She ended up pitching at Columbia High School, where she became a dominant starter with numerous accolades to her name. She was a second-team All-State pitcher in 2017 and was also a Times Union All-Star First Team pitcher every year from eighth grade to her senior year of high school. Her marquee performance happened in the 2016 Section II Class AA Quarterfinal, when she threw a no-hitter with 15 strikeouts.
Despite her performance at the high school level, she still doubted her ability to play at the next level. It wasn’t until a visit with former Hofstra head coach Larissa Anderson that she realized she could play college softball.
“When I was talking to [Anderson], I said, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m good enough to come here?’ and she said ‘Yes, of course,’” Burns said. “I actually started crying, because I didn’t think I was good enough to come [to Hofstra].”
That talk, combined with the proximity to home, made the decision obvious for Burns. She signed her letter of intent in 2017 as a high school junior, during the same week as her Hofstra teammates Meghan Giordano and Jaycee Ruberti.
However, a lot changed in the time between signing her letter of intent and her first pitch as a member of the Pride.
First and foremost, Anderson, the coach that gave Burns the assurance that she could play in college, left for the University of Missouri. Then, pitchers Sarah Cornell and Sophie Dandola both decided to transfer, forcing Burns and fellow freshman Mackenzie Suto to fill those gaps.
For most signees, that much uncertainty surrounding a program would be enough for them to open their recruitment back up and find a new school. However, Burns’ adoration of Hofstra was too strong, and it never crossed her mind to uncommit.
“There was no hesitation. I planned on coming here because I loved the school and I loved the softball atmosphere,” she said.
Her decision to stay was immediately rewarded, as Hofstra brought in legendary head coach Jay Miller. Miller, the 22nd winningest coach in NCAA Division I history, is known for his knowledge about pitching. In their short time together, Miller has already been able to give some guidance to Burns about her time on the mound.
“He knows what he’s talking about, and he knows what’s going on. There’s always something that he can help me with,” she said. “I really have learned a lot [from him].”
Since Anderson made the non-conference schedule for the Pride before she left, Burns had a grueling start to her career. Her first three starts were against the University of Kentucky, Oklahoma State University and the University of Utah, two of which were ranked at the time. She struggled a lot in those first three games, allowing 17 earned runs in 9 and one-third innings, starting her career off with a 12.75 ERA. While nerves may have gotten the best of her on that trip, she credits her teammates with helping her keep in good spirits from game to game.
“They [told me], ‘It’s just a game. You’ve got to come back and battle through it,’” she said. “That helped me get through, looking up to the older girls ... that was what I needed in order to push forward.”
She showed improvement over her next couple of starts, even if the performances weren’t translating into wins. On Friday, March 8, she got over the hump, earning her first win in a dominating four-hit shutout against Norfolk State University. Since that game, she’s allowed 33 runs in 88 and one-third innings, good for a 2.62 ERA. She’s also struck out 44 batters in that timespan. While she’s had some issues with her control (77 walks to 59 strikeouts on the whole season), she’s pitched through her struggles, getting out of jams that she would’ve let get the best of her earlier in the season.
Her best start of the season was against the University of Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hens. She tossed her third complete-game shutout of the season, striking out eight batters and not allowing a single walk for the first time in her career.
Part of what allows her to shake off struggles and develop the necessary mental strength is her penchant for leadership. In high school, she won the Suburban Council Excellence in Leadership award. Even though she may be a freshman, she still takes pride in her leadership.
“As a pitcher, you lead the field. Based on what you do or how you do, it’s the whole game,” she said. “You have to be a good leader on the mound, whether you’re a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior.”
Even though this year may be considered a rebuilding year for the Pride, they’ve shown some flashes of a team that can do some damage in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA). Burns believes that if they can keep their momentum, they can make some noise in the conference tournament.
“We want to keep winning and playing well, so we can make it to the CAA tournament,” she said. “Ultimately, winning that would be awesome.”
As for herself, Burns believes that there are still improvements she can make to her game.
“Winning every inning, not letting the leadoff runners on, not giving [up] free bases. I’ve been struggling with the walks,” she said. “I just have to rely on my defense. I think that if we just rely on each other, we’ll win and we’ll be okay.”
Photo courtesy of Hofstra Athletics