For a pitcher who was fifth entering the pitching hierarchy her freshman season, senior Lauren Fitzsimmons has come a long way in her record-setting and productive softball career at The College of New Jersey.
With her collegiate career nearing its completion, the 2008 Bridgewater-Raritan High School graduate has been a success in the classroom and on the diamond. Fitzsimmons finished the season with a 18-7 record and 1.64 earned runs average.
In addition, Fitzsimmons recorded 144 strikeouts en route to a school best career mark of 469, and pitched a no-hitter—the third of her career—in the team’s 3-0 victory over Kean University in the New Jersey Athletic Conference Tournament.
Even though they lost their next game, a 1-0 decision to Montclair State University, the no-hitter by Fitzsimmons helped the Lions stave off elimination in the NJAC tournament.
The Lions were awarded an at-large bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament.
TCNJ won its first NCAA tourney game 2-1 over Alvernia College. Fitzsimmons went all nine innings, allowed just one run and struck out five, marking her 18th win this season, a career high.
TCNJ loss its next two games to end the season at 26-17 overall. Fitzsimmons finished with 469 strikeouts for her career.
“It’s absolutely amazing,” she said of participating in the tournament. “We had this opportunity when I was a sophomore, and it takes a special team to get this far.
Fitzsimmon’s no-hitter came at an opportune time for the team, which lost its first game in the conference tournament and needed a win to continue on. She tossed a no-hitter apiece the previous two seasons and against Kean, Fitzsimmons went all seven innings and struck out two.
“I was focused on every batter,” she said. “We’ve played Kean so many times and played that specific team quite a few times. They have a lot of returners from last year’s team, so you get to the point where you know the batter and they know you."
“It’s a challenge to keep them off-balance and that’s what our catcher, Michelle Kent, and I did,” she added.
As a senior, it meant a lot to Fitzsimmons to come through in the clutch for her team.
“It was huge,” she said. “The last two years, Kean has kicked our tail in the tournament and they’ve gone on to take the title."
“Our sophomore year, we lost to them in one of our first losses in the regional, so it's definitely a rivalry between us and Kean," she added. "For us to come out on top over them in the tournament, it shows we can step up and play when things are on the line.”
In addition, Fitzsimmons was able to block out the thought of it being potentially the last game of her career, and that's what makes the no-hitter even more impressive.
“There is definitely some pressure,” she said. “A loss there could’ve potentially been our last game."
“It’s a very hard thing because I’ve played with these girls the last four years and having that thought of it possibly being your last chance, it’s tough," she added. "But when you’re out there, you have to just leave that aside and only think about the job you have to do.”
Fitzsimmons was also named to the All-NJAC First Team after garnering second team honors earlier in her career. She broke the school’s all-time strikeout record earlier in the season, previously held by Mandy Schenck, who recorded 423 strikeouts.
Fitzsimmons currently has 459 strikeouts.
“Every year, at one point or another, I’ve gotten hurt,” she said. “So my main goal was to keep healthy so I could keep playing."
“All of the success I’ve had happened only because of the team I’ve had with me," she added. “I could have never gotten the strikeout record without Michelle, my catcher, and we work together on everything and it’s her record just as much as it is mine.”
Also in her season of accolades, Fitzsimmons was named to this year’s Academic All-District Two First team. She’s majoring in English secondary education and sports an impressive 3.54 grade-point-average.
“It’s so important to balance academics and athletics,” she said. “It’s nice to be recognized for academics as much as your athletic accolades.”
Fitzsimmons has plans on becoming a teacher, but the thought of coaching softball has also crossed her mind.
“I would love to coach,” she said. “My heart is set on coaching and I think from everything I’ve learned from being a player and interacting with my former coaches, I’m very ready to make that transfer from player to coach.”
Fitzsimmons still maintains touch with Panthers coach Sandra Baranowski.
“We always kid that if I graduated, I was going to come back to volunteer and help out the team,” Fitzsimmons said with a laugh. “And when coach is ready to retire, I’ll take over.”
All kidding aside, Fitzsimmons has enjoyed her four-year college stay at TCNJ and she would not trade her experience there for anything else.
“I had an amazing time at TCNJ,” she said. “The community is amazing and the athletic department has been so supportive."
“It’s been a great four years and I do not want to say goodbye,” she added.