March 5, 2015

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Plourde dominates in the circle, leads nation in strikeouts

The Massachusetts softball team’s starting pitcher Sara Plourde is living up to high expectations.

The sophomore currently leads the country in strikeouts this season with 236 in 128 innings and her strong performance in the circle also earned her the honors of this week’s UMass Athlete of the Week and Atlantic 10 Pitcher of the Week.

The sophomore from Bristol, Conn. broke school records last weekend at the San Diego Classic II, striking out 22 batters in a single game against No. 22 Texas A&M. Plourde did not allow a hit in over eight innings and the one run allowed proved to be the game winner. Plourde came close to breaking records in a game against Illinois State earlier in the season, where she threw 18 strikeouts.

The record was previously held by four-time A-10 Pitcher of the Year, Brandice Balschmitter. Balschmitter recorded 19 strikeouts last year against George Washington.

In total, Plourde struck out 96 batters at the San Diego Classic II, allowing only two runs in her first two games pitched. The Minutewomen (15-7) had two back-to-back wins at day two of the classic with help from Plourde, who shutout Illinois-Chicago after allowing only five hits and no walks. In the 14 innings of the two games, Plourde allowed just one run.

Despite losing 2-0 on the final day of the classic to Long Island, Plourde still pitched strong with eight strikeouts along with one earned run allowed on six hits to improve her record to 14-3.

“We’ve worked really hard all winter to get everything to mix and get everything to move the way we want it to move. You kind of go not expecting anything, you just do it,” Plourde said.

UMass coach Elaine Sortino did not imagine her new starter to be so successful in shutting out opponents, but Plourde seems to have proved her wrong.

“In terms of leading the country in strikeouts, I mean I’ve never even thought about it to tell you the truth,” Sortino said. “You come with the expectation of doing well against your opponents.”

The sophomore’s impressive strikeout average has helped her team to numerous shutouts as well. She threw her second career no-hitter against Illinois State at the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Leadoff Classic, where UMass earned a 1-0 victory. The Maroon and White went on to shutout UT Chattanooga after Plourde allowed no runs on four hits and struck out 13 batters.

Plourde picked up her fourth shutout of the season against Virginia Tech, where she allowed three hits. She finished the game by retiring 11 batters in a row. Illinois-Chicago served as the most recent shutout for Plourde.

“She has a lot of movement and I think she gets a better sense of how to make the ball move a little bit better every day.” Sortino said as a reason for why Plourde has emerged into a leading pitcher.

In the A-10, Plourde is placed second for her ERA of 1.20 and opposing batting average of .181, behind Jen Mineau of Fordham. This week’s honor of A-10 Pitcher of the Week is Plourde’s third of the season and second in a row.

Plourde has only improved upon her performance last year, where she was a two-time recipient of the A-10 Rookie of the Week. She went 6-1 last year with a 1.83 ERA and threw 67 strikeouts in the entire season, a number she has more than tripled so far this season.

“I definitely have more control for the most part,” Plourde said. “I was a little inconsistent, so consistency is probably the biggest thing I’ve improved on.”

As for the rest of the season, Plourde hopes to keep up her consistency, along with mixing up her pitches more, so she can avoid showing teams the same thing.

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

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