The first postseason game of the year is nothing new for Massachusetts softball coach Elaine Sortino. But for a team as young as the Minutewomen, she knew the first game was going to cause some nervousness.
Regardless, sophomore Sara Plourde kept Saint Joseph’s bats cool with 16 strikeouts in a seven-inning shutout while senior Sarah Reeves, who is no stranger to the Atlantic 10 tournament, hit two home runs in a 3-0 victory over the Hawks (28-17).
Her first came in the third inning on the first pitch. The ball went into left field and gave UMass a 2-0 lead.
She homered again in the sixth inning again to left field, but closer to the foul pole on a 1-2 count. Reeves finished the game with 10 home runs on the season.
“I was just trying to stay aggressive at the plate,” Reeves said. “That’s what we’ve been doing all season, every one of us throughout the lineup, and it paid off today.”
Sortino said she was glad that one of her team leaders could step up and show her leadership offensively. The last time Reeves homered twice was in the Maroon and White’s 7-5 victory over Boston University on April 13.
“We call her chief because she’s in charge of everything and she kind of barks the orders all-around and everyone listens to her so it’s nice to have her lead the way,” Sortino said.
While Sortino believed the extra run support helped, she believes the play that gave the Minutewomen (39-7-1), the edge the rest of the game came in the second inning.
Freshman Christine Della Vecchia came in as a pinch-runner following a walk to senior Jessica Serio setting up second baseman Kyllie Magill with a runner on first base.
Magill hit a double to right center to advance Della Vecchia, who came in late on an SJU fielder trying to make a play at home, but the freshman slid around the back of the plate and reached base with her hands, avoiding contact from catcher Brooke Darreff.
“It was a great slide,” Sortino said. “That’s one of her fortes. I mean she’s a really fast base-runner and I think over the years, she’s really going to be tearing it up on the bases. I think she’s going to be able to steal a lot.”
Hawks pitcher Taryn Ashway finished the game giving up six hits and three strikeouts in the loss.
UMass plays again on Friday against Fordham at noon. The winner will automatically qualify for the Atlantic 10 Championship while the loser faces either Charlotte or St. Joe’s.
The Minutewomen faced the Rams in a double-header on April 3 and won both games. However, UMass should not expect them to go away quietly, especially with one of the nation’s top pitchers in Jen Mineau. The sophomore has a 30-5 record with a 0.69 earned run average and 436 strikeouts.
She recently became a Top 10 Finalist for the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year award and rivals Plourde as one of the top pitchers in the nation.
In Fordham’s first game against Charlotte, Mineau threw a no-hitter with 12 strikeouts in defeating the 49ers, 1-0. The last time the Rams lost was their meeting with the Minutewomen in the Bronx.
Regardless of what happens, the two teams could meet again in the Championship if the losing team wins its next game.
Adam Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.