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UMass heads to Leadoff Classic for tournament action

Coming off of four wins at the Florida International University Combat Classic, the Massachusetts’ softball team looks to continue its dominating pitching and intense hitting this weekend at the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Leadoff Classic.

The Minutewomen (4-1)  rank No. 20 in the USA Today/NFCA Poll after last week’s classic.

Pitcher Sara Plourde went 3-0 while striking out 37 opponents, while bringing a 1.84 ERA into the classic. First baseman Sarah Reeves’ .571 batting average and 1.071 slugging percentage is also something that will help the Maroon and White, while also posting no errors at first base.

The Minutewomen will travel to Columbus, Ga. to face Mississippi State (7-2). The Bulldogs started its season with a sweep over the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Stephen F. Austin in the Bulldog Round-Robin, followed by a 3-1 showing at the Aggie Classic.

MSU brings strong pitching to the table; freshman Kylie Vry threw a no-hitter in her first career start, while both Stephanie Becker and Misty Flesher boast ERAs of 2.00 and 2.59, respectively.

Ka’ili Smith leads the Bulldogs, hitting with a .429 batting average, 11 RBIs and two home runs. Brittany Bell is not far behind, with a .385 batting average and a team-leading .500 on base percentage.

Mississippi does, however, have a fairly young team, with just two seniors compared to six freshmen. The Bulldogs are currently in second place in its conference, behind Alabama.

UMass will then face North Carolina State (6-4) for the second time this season. In their first matchup, the Minutewomen took the 1-0 victory in a rain-delayed game.

Plourde dominated over the Wolfpack, striking out 15 and allowing just four hits in the shutout. It was sophomore Katie Bettencourt who hit a solo home run off of Lindsay Campana to win the game for UMass.

At the Leadoff Classic, NC State is 3-6 and 2-2 against UMass. The Wolfpack have won four games since its loss to the Minutewomen, mainly behind strong hitting from Stephanie Call. Call has a .406 batting average, along with a .926 slugging percentage. She has four homeruns this season, followed by offensive threats Bridget Desbois and Claudia Cooper. Landon Warren also set school records this season with four runs scored in an impressive 24-1 victory over North Carolina Central.

Lindsey Campana’s one loss of the season was to UMass, where she allowed five hits. Campana has a 0.27 ERA for the season and averages 9.33 strikeouts per game.

The Minutewomen then meet No. 6 Missouri (3-2) Saturday morning. The Tigers have beaten the Minutewomen in all four of its previous meetings, the most recent being in the Leadoff Classic in 2002. Mizzou also outscored UMass 16-4 in total.

The Tigers are coming off of a split series against Arizona, led by junior Megan Christopher. Christopher leads her team with a .538 batting average and .615 slugging percentage. Not far behind are Nicole Hudson and Jenna Marston with a combined five RBIs for the season.

Sophomore Chelsea Thomas comes into the game with a 3-1 record and a 3.57 ERA. Thomas did struggle against Arizona, giving up two early walks and a homerun. Jana Hainey and Kristin Nottlemann have also made appearances at the plate for MU.

UMass’ second game on Saturday will be played against Illinois State (5-3). The Redbirds come into the Leadoff Classic after a 3-1 showing at the Arizona State Littlewood Classic.

ISU holds a 3-0 record over UMass in the Leadoff Classic. In the Littlewood Classic, Michelle Henderson had 36 putouts, a .500 batting average and a 1.143 slugging percentage.

Megan Warner is 2-0 this season with a 2.18 ERA, while Chrissy Burton also made a good impression in the final two games of the Classic, striking out nine batters to help her team to the wins.

The Minutewomen will finish the five-game classic against No. 18 Louisiana (8-2), who comes in off of a 3-2 run at the Houston Marriott Classic.

The Cajuns are 20-13 in their seven appearances at the Leadoff Classic. The last time they faced each other, UMass was also defeated by UL at the 1997 Classic, 6-0.

Two strong pitchers, Brittany Cuevas and Donna Bourgeois, helped Louisiana in its three wins. Cuevas is 5-0 in the season, followed by Bourgeois who is 3-2 with a 1.22 ERA.

Christi Orgeron and Melissa Verde lead Louisiana with 12 RBIs. Five of Orgeron’s seven hits have been homeruns, while Lana Bowers also helps out with a .371 batting average.

The Maroon and White have been invited to and competed in the Leadoff Classic every year it has been held. UMass looks to improve on its 2-0 record at last year’s classic, which was shortened due to rain.

Geena Lombardi can be reached at glombard@student.umass.edu.

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