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May 17, 2016

Defense paying off for Minutewomen

Behind the dominating pitching of Sara Plourde and power hitting from the offense, there has been one component of the Massachusetts softball team that has been overshadowed this season: The defense.

However, UMass’ defense stepped up recently in its 6-0 shutout of Quinnipiac. With three players boasting a fielding percentage of 1.000, the Minutewomen (28-7, 8-0 Atlantic 10) helped Plourde record her fifth no-hitter of the season.

“No-hitters are sensational in newspapers and get people to want to come and watch,” UMass coach Elaine Sortino said. “But, I can promise you that never once do we start a game and think, ‘Today we’re going to throw a no-hitter.”

To Sortino, no-hitters are something to which her team pays little attention.

Plourde, with 399 strikeouts for the season, relied on her defense in the no-hitter, as she tossed nine strikeouts in the game.

“We had a lot more defensive plays,” Plourde said. “[Quinnipiac] was a good hitting team, they just put the ball in play and our defense had a chance to make our plays. They did it, they put everything away.”

Michelle Libby helped out in the first inning, catching a fly ball to end the inning after Plourde struck out two batters. Carly Normandin got the second out in the second inning, along with catching a fly ball in the fifth, and Plourde fanning the final batter to end the second. Freshman Teea Rogers also helped out with an out at third base to finish up the third inning.

Sarah Reeves came through for UMass in the fourth, making two outs at first base after Plourde forced both batters to pop out. It was also Reeves who ended the game and ensured the shutout, making the final out on a foul ball in the seventh inning.

It was all defense in the sixth inning for the Maroon and White, with catcher Meghan Carta catching a foul ball. Rogers came through with her second key play of the day by stopping a line drive at third base, while Whitney Williams, playing shortstop, stopped another line drive to end the inning for the Minutewomen. 

Normandin, Katie Bettencourt and Reeves are the three starting players who have a 1.000 fielding percentage this season. Kyllie Magill, Libby and Carta also have high ranking fielding percentages, with .980, .943 and .998, respectively.    

In the A-10, Carta is second in putouts, with 431, while Reeves and Normandin are also tied for first place in the A-10 for their fielding percentages.      

Despite having numerous defensive threats at her disposal, Sortino does not have one player on defense who she feels stands out esepcially.

“I think all of them are doing a good job,” Sortino said. “I think we started out with errors early in the year, but that was also a byproduct of not being able to play on the field.”  

In the NCAA fielding percentage standings, UMass ranks fourth in the country with an overall percentage of .978. The Minutewomen also have the lowest amount of errors in the NCAA, with 17. The defense stands strong in putouts and assists, with 668 and 94, respectively.

Now that the Minutewomen can play outside at the UMass softball complex, 10 of their next 13 regular season games will be played at home, and Sortino thinks her defense will only continue to improve. Despite having a consistent pitcher and strong batters on offense, Sortino is confident that “defense wins championships.”

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

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