Strong pitching was the theme of the weekend for the Massachusetts softball team as they went 5-0 and served as the only team to go undefeated at the University of South Florida Under Armour Invitational.
“I thought we performed very consistently for the most part and I think that’s why the outcome was so positive,” UMass coach Elaine Sortino said.
Pitcher Sara Plourde struck out 21 batters to start off day one of the invitational, with two wins over Tennessee-Chattanooga and Loyola Chicago.
Whitney Williams put UMass (11-4) on the board first against UT-Chattanooga (12-7), taking advantage of a walk onto first base along with two illegal pitches from Brooke Loudermilk that sent her home. The Minutewomen scored again in the top of the second off a solo homerun from Meghan Carta to take a 2-0 lead.
Starting pitcher Loudermilk was taken off the mound in the second inning after throwing eight illegal pitches. Kandice Irwin and Nikki Waters replaced Loudermilk and allowed the final two runs of the game.
A throwing error from the Mocs’ shortstop also helped the Maroon and White to its third and final run of the game. Carta reached third base on the error, along with pinch runner Jordan Storro scoring from third.
Plourde allowed zero runs on four hits, as well as 13 strikeouts in seven innings pitched, increasing her record to 6-2 and taking the 3-0 shutout.
“I think she’s certainly doing what she needs to do to be successful in the game,” Sortino said. “She’s a young pitcher, she has a lot to learn and I feel like every day she gets a little bit better at it.”
Michelle Libby opened up scoring for UMass in the second game Friday afternoon against Loyola Chicago (2-7), hitting a solo homerun in the top of the first inning. Carta hit her second homerun of the weekend directly after Libby, giving the Maroon and White an early 2-0 lead. Carta leads the Minutewomen in homeruns with three this season.
The Ramblers put a run on the board in the top of the second, started by a throwing error that advanced Brooke Andresen to second base. An RBI single to left field drove home Andresen and decreased the lead to a single run.
The bottom of the second produced another run for UMass as Kyllie Magill singled and stole second base to start off the inning, followed by an RBI single from Carly Normandin to bring Magill home. She scored again in the fourth inning off a Katie Bettencourt RBI single.
“She gives a great effort. She’s just such a talented athlete and we’re very fortunate to have a [player] like that,” Sortino said of Normandin.
Loyola Chicago got one more run back when Andresen scored in the sixth inning, but it was not enough for the win.
Plourde struck out eight batters in five innings pitched, but it was Bailey Sanders who was credited with the save. Sanders stranded three batters on base in the sixth inning, followed by three strikeouts in the seventh for the 4-2 victory. Sortino felt that Sanders and Plourde worked well together to provide relief and support to come out with the win.
The Minutewomen’s second shutout of the weekend came with a 3-0 win over Virginia Tech on Saturday afternoon.
Neither team’s offense had any action in the first four innings. The Maroon and White did not have a single hit in those innings, held back by starting pitcher Kenzie Roark. The Hokies (7-10) also had little offensive action with just three hits allowed by Plourde.
UMass’ offense came to life in the bottom of the fifth inning, spurred by back-to-back singles from Jessica Serio and Normandin. Both batters were sent home by a Williams double to right center. Williams went on to score the third and final run for the Minutewomen from a Bettencourt single.
Plourde did not allow another hit from Virginia Tech in the remaining innings, earning her fourth shutout of the season and improving to 8-2.
Day two of play for the Minutewomen was wrapped up with a victory over the host of the invitational, USF.
After a throwing error by the shortstop and a single to left field, the Bulls (6-6) took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning.
UMass came back in the top of the third inning behind a Sarah Reeves three-run homerun, her third of the season. She drove in Bettencourt and Magill who each had a single to get on base.
USF got a run back in the fourth inning when Cat Olnick hit a triple to left center. Plourde came through for her team as she struck out three consecutive batters to keep the Minutewomen in the lead. However, the Bulls regained a 5-4 lead in the fifth inning when Alison Savarese hit a two-run homer to left center.
After a fielder’s choice and error by the left fielder put two on base for UMass, Libby hit a two-run single to take a 6-5 lead and win over USF. Plourde struck out four additional batters – a total of 14 for the game – in the remaining innings to ensure the win.
The Minutewomen ended the USF Under Armour Invitational with a 6-1 win over Robert Morris.
Libby doubled to right field in the second inning, bringing home Cyndil Matthew to drive in the first run for the Minutewomen. A throwing error by the catcher allowed Libby to score an unearned run and give UMass a lead it would keep for the remainder of the game.
A third run was tacked on in the bottom of the third, set up by a Magill triple followed by a Bettencourt double to send her home. The Minutewomen’s final three runs came in the bottom of the fourth inning, started off by a Magill RBI double. After Magill advanced to third base on a wild pitch, Reeves came through and homered to left field to score two runs.
Katrina Gallagher bunted in the top of the sixth inning to put one run on the board for the Colonials (1-4), but Robert Morris could not spark enough offense to come back from a five-run deficit.
Sanders was credited with her second win for UMass after striking out two and allowing four hits. Plourde came in as relief in the fourth inning, allowing one run on two hits to pick up her first save of the season.
The Minutewomen return to action on March 18 at the San Diego Classic II.
Geena Lombardi can be reached at email@example.com.