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Boutin starting to produce after slow start to 2011 season

Junior pitcher Sara Plourde is the catalyst for the Massachusetts softball team. There’s no doubt about that.

Yet, as good as Plourde is, she’s just a pitcher. She can’t hit, which means she can’t contribute to the UMass offense at the plate. Instead, the player the Minutewomen will depend on for offense is senior Audrey Boutin.

“She’s a big, strong kid,” said UMass coach Elaine Sortino. “It’s nice to see her come up to the plate in the [cleanup] position. She’s been pretty steady and she hit very, very well in South Florida. She’s stepped it up [recently] and we needed it.”

A junior, Boutin has started all 19 games at first base this season, but her statistics are a bit lacking so far due to a slow start. She’s batting .250 and out of her 15 hits, only three were for extra-bases. She’s scored four runs, which is tied for sixth on the team and hasn’t been as much of a power threat as she’d like.

“Bad choices [affected her start this season],” said Sortino. “Not swinging at good pitches. I think that when you’re anxious, you don’t make good choices and it sounds crazy, but you have to be calm but aggressive. Those are two very contradicting words, but that’s what a great hitter is.”

The potential is there. This is the same player who batted .554 with 36 runs on 41 hits, four doubles, three triples and seven home runs in her senior season of high school. She slugged .973, which is unheard of regardless of the level, meaning that virtually every time Boutin recorded a hit, it went for extra-bases. She had a solid glove as well, only committing two errors that season.

The team is hoping that Boutin can channel her play and get back to the level she exhibited as a sophomore in 2009 when she played in 38 games and batted .295 with three home runs, 11 runs batted in, nine walks and four runs scored. Despite her struggles out of the gate thus far, she seems to have found her stroke at the plate.

After raising her batting average more than 20 points in the past few games, Boutin is red-hot. In the last two weeks she’s hit .417 through seven games including hitting a torrid .474 with eight RBIs and a home run in the USF Under Armour Showcase alone. She’s notched two home runs, which is tied for first on the team and she’s second in RBIs with 10.

While she’s a big threat when she’s swinging, Boutin also boasts a .338 on-base percentage and eight walks to date, indicating that she’s a patient hitter at the plate. She does just as much damage when she walks as when she hits. She waits for her perfect pitch and if she doesn’t get it, she doesn’t swing. That’s hard to do in softball where a pitcher typically dominates games throwing off-speed and breaking pitches to a batter who is only 40-feet away.

“Those are good numbers [from Boutin],” said Sortino. “That’s very hard to do, but I think she’s got a great eye and in her head she’s in a good place. I felt like she took some good pitches on Saturday, but her pitch-to-strikeout ratio is excellent.”

The average speed of a collegiate pitcher in softball is about 60 miles-per-hour, but the mound is only 40-feet away from the plate. This gives Boutin, or any other UMass batter, about .26-seconds to react to a pitch when it leaves the pitcher’s hand. Comparatively, a collegiate baseball pitcher averages about 84 mph from a mound 60.6-feet away. That equals about .45-seconds to react. It’s much harder for a softball player to successfully be selective in her at-bats, but it’s something that Boutin does very well.

Now that Boutin has begun to produce at the plate, the Minutewomen should be able to shake off some of the rust offensively and get back to doing what they’ve always done: score runs and win games. Sortino hasn’t let up on her expectations of this year’s squad and the players are just as determined as their coach.

With Boutin swinging away, their chances look pretty good.

Michael Wood can be reached at mcwood@student.umass.edu.

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