The Massachusetts softball team couldn’t have asked for a better draw than playing a team it just beat in a double-header earlier this week, especially one it shut-out in both games.
UMass (38-7-1, 17-0-1 Atlantic 10) will play Saint Joseph’s for the third time this week in the Second Round of the A-10 tournament. The Minutewomen tallied a combined 13 runs against the Hawks (28-16, 12-7 A-10) while the defense kept them scoreless throughout both games.
The Maroon and White won Game 1, 5-0, by getting to SJU pitcher Erin Gallagher early, scoring three runs in the first inning. Defensively, UMass pitcher Sara Plourde held the Hawks to two hits and recorded 13 strikeouts to give her 501 strikeouts on the season.
The win clinched the top seed for the Minutewomen and allowed senior Bailey Sanders to get her first start since March 7. UMass scored eight runs to end the game after five innings as Sanders also pitched a two-hitter while throwing six strikeouts.
Both teams will meet again after the Hawks defeated Saint Louis, 5-2, in 11 innings. The Billikens are the only team that kept the Minutewomen from sweeping the A-10 schedule by forcing a tie at three apiece before inclement weather called off an eight-inning affair.
Despite its success against UMass, it couldn’t overcome SJU’s extra-inning rally.
With the game tied at two, the Hawks’ catcher Brooke Darreff reached on a fielding error by SLU third baseman Rachel Falletto.
The next batter, Monica Aguilar, drew a walk before advancing on a sacrifice bunt that put runners on second and third base. Freshman Deanna Stinner scored both runners on a single down the right field line.
She eventually moved to second after a throwing error and then scored the third run after sophomore Alaina Loguidice hit a two-out single.
Gallagher finished the game with a career-high 18 strikeouts.
The Hawks will need a similar type of performance from Gallagher if they hope to keep the Minutewomen from continuing their unbeaten streak in the conference.
The only time UMass didn’t win the A-10 Championship since 1995 was in 2004 when it lost to SJU. However, the Minutewomen haven’t gone undefeated in the A-10 since 1996, a year that they won the A-10 tournament.
If the Hawks hope to have some level of success against UMass, it will have to be more patient at the plate and look to draw out Plourde’s pitch counts. When the sophomore pitcher isn’t throwing strikes regularly, she tends to give up more hits, which will put more pressure on the offense to drive in runs.
They also need to prevent the Minutewomen from having a strong first inning. UMass tends to score most of its runs in the first inning, which brings the momentum over early in the game.
Although SJU did not fare well against the Minutewomen a few days ago, its win over a team that nearly beat UMass should give it plenty of confidence going into the game.
The winner will place either Fordham or Charlotte on Friday.
Adam Miller can be reached at email@example.com.