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After tough start, UMass finds win column in tournaments

The Massachusetts softball team notched a win for the first time in nearly two weeks on March 11, rounding out its trip to Florida in the USF Under Armour Showcase with a 4-1 record.

In the first matchup of their five-game weekend series that Friday, the Minutewomen offense returned to life in a big way against Toledo. After two weekends of inefficient production – scoring seven total runs in its previous seven games – UMass dominated the Rockets with a 17-0 thrashing in five innings, the most runs the Maroon and White have scored in a game since 2006.

Meghan Carta, Kyllie Magill and Tiffany Meeks each blasted home runs – including a grand slam from Carta – to lead the offensive explosion that saw the Minutewomen collect 16 hits.

Freshman Lindsey Webster was also a big factor, going 4-for-5 and crossing the plate three times in the rout, just over one week removed from her first collegiate start in left field.

Sara Plourde returned to her dominant form as well. The junior All-American struck out 11 and allowed just one hit in four innings of work before freshman Caroline Raymond finished the game with a shutout inning.

In the nightcap, it was more of the same dominance, as UMass notched a 4-0 victory against host South Florida to complete an undefeated day.

Plourde continued her excellent play, striking out 15 and only allowing two base runners in a complete game one-hitter.

Although the Minutewomen were only able to muster six hits at the plate, it was more than enough for the 2010 national strikeouts leader to earn the victory. Leading the charge on offense was senior Audrey Boutin, who went 2-for-4 and produced two RBIs.

On Saturday, UMass was right back to business with another doubleheader, and like Friday, the Minutewomen grabbed two wins to continue their terrific weekend.

Plourde pitched a one-hit shutout and struck out 10 in six innings of work to lead UMass past Colorado State, 7-1, in the first game of the day. She followed up that performance with an even better one in the nightcap, striking out 18 batters and allowing four hits in a 7-0 shutout win over Wisconsin-Green Bay.

Boutin continued her impressive weekend, going 3-for-4 against Colorado State, with a double and two RBIs, and then led the Minutewomen again against the Phoenix with another 3-for-4 performance and three RBIs.

“[Sara Plourde] has been throwing a really great game for us, and we’re just happy that we’re creating the offense that we’re creating for her, because she definitely deserves it,” said Boutin in a UMassAthletics.com interview.

Unfortunately for the Minutewomen, the offensive production wasn’t enough on Sunday to complete an undefeated weekend, as they dropped the final game of the tournament in an 8-4 loss to St. John’s.

After UMass jumped out to a 4-0 lead, the Red Storm used big third and fourth innings to come racing back, scoring eight unanswered runs to take the victory.

Plourde was nothing like her previous performances of the weekend, lasting just two and one-third innings, giving up two runs on five hits before being replaced by Webster.

Webster gave up six runs (five earned) in two and two-thirds innings to take the loss before Raymond relieved her, completing the game and digging the Minutewomen out of a bases-loaded jam.

Aside from her pitching performance on Sunday, the headline all weekend was the emergence of Webster, who produced heavily at the plate, going 8-for-14 on the weekend, including her first collegiate home run, a solo shot in the first inning against St. John’s.

UMass used the momentum built off its successful weekend in its quest for its seventh- straight conference championship this past weekend when it traveled to Charlotte.

In the opening game of the two-game weekend on Friday, the Minutewomen trailed off offensively compared to its stint in Florida, but got job the done with another phenomenal performance from Plourde.

With a three-hit, eight strikeout shutout performance, Plourde picked up her seventh victory of the season, but it was Boutin’s solo home run that led off the second inning that sparked the 1-0 victory and provided all the offense that Plourde needed.

The Minutewomen finished off the weekend on Saturday afternoon, and after a long, 14-inning affair with the 49ers, ultimately fell, 3-2.

Plourde, pitching for the second day in a row, showed off her stamina by going the distance of 13 and two-thirds innings, giving up three runs, two of which were earned, on six hits and recording 12 strikeouts.

With the bases loaded, Charlotte’s Tenaya Tucker hit a two-out single in the bottom of the 14th to push the winning run across the plate. It was UMass’ first regular season Atlantic 10 loss since falling to Fordham on May 3, 2009.

The Minutewomen will continue their A-10 schedule this weekend when they travel to Philadelphia, Pa. for a two-game series with Temple before a doubleheader with St. Joseph’s on Sunday.

Stephen Hewitt can be reached at shewitt@student.umass.edu.

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