Scrolling Headlines:

UMass women’s basketball handles Duquesne at home -

January 16, 2017

UMass men’s basketball’s late comeback falls short after blowing 15-point first-half lead -

January 15, 2017

UMass hockey outlasted at home against No. 6 UMass Lowell -

January 14, 2017

Hailey Leidel hits second buzzer beater of the season to give UMass women’s basketball win over Davidson -

January 13, 2017

UMass football hosts Maine at Fenway Park in 2017 -

January 12, 2017

UMass men’s basketball snaps losing streak and upsets Dayton Wednesday night at Mullins Center -

January 11, 2017

UMass women’s track and field takes second at Dartmouth Relays -

January 10, 2017

UMass hockey falls to No. 5 Boston University at Frozen Fenway -

January 8, 2017

UMass professor to make third appearance on ‘Jeopardy!’ -

January 8, 2017

UMass women’s basketball suffers brutal loss on road against Saint Joseph’s -

January 7, 2017

UMass men’s basketball drops thirds straight, falls to VCU 81-64 -

January 7, 2017

UMass men’s basketball drops tightly-contested conference matchup against George Mason Wednesday night -

January 4, 2017

Late-game defense preserves UMass women’s basketball’s win against rival Rhode Island -

January 4, 2017

AIC shuts out UMass hockey 3-0 at Mullins Center -

January 4, 2017

UMass professor to appear as contestant on ‘Jeopardy!’ Thursday night -

January 4, 2017

Penalties plague UMass hockey in Mariucci Classic championship game -

January 2, 2017

UMass men’s basketball falls in A-10 opener to St. Bonaventure and its veteran backcourt -

December 30, 2016

UMass woman’s basketball ends FIU Holiday Classic with 65-47 loss to Drexel -

December 29, 2016

UMass men’s basketball finishes non-conference schedule strong with win over Georgia State -

December 28, 2016

Brett Boeing joins UMass hockey for second half of season -

December 28, 2016

UMass softball looks to continue hot play after hitting its stride

The Massachusetts softball team feels like it’s close to hitting its stride.

After starting the season 2-10, the Minutewomen (7-12, 1-1 Atlantic 10) have won five of their last seven games as they prepare for two conference series’ in Pennsylvania this weekend against Temple and Saint Joseph’s.

The nation’s top teams were responsible for the Minutewomen’s poor start, but the Maroon and White recovered two weeks ago at the USF Under Armour Showcase, where they went 4-1 before splitting its first conference series, 1-1, against Charlotte last weekend.

UMass believes it is on its way to returning to championship form. However, UMass coach Elaine Sortino believes there’s a lot of room for improvement, especially with her offense. Sortino, who’s in her 32nd season, knows that once a few players show more consistency at the plate, the rest will follow suit.

“We have to hit one through nine,” said Sortino. “We just have been out of sorts and I felt like it’s not our swings as much as our choices. We took a lot of good pitches and swung at a lot of bad pitches last weekend.”

Senior Audrey Boutin and sophomore Teea Rogers are doing their best to spark the rest of the lineup. In UMass’ last seven games, Boutin is batting .417 (10-24) with a home run and a team-leading nine RBIs, while Rogers, last season’s A-10 All-Rookie Team selection, is hitting .409.

Senior catcher Meghan Carta believes that the lineup is close to clicking, which starts with leadoff hitter Kyllie Magill. Magill, a junior second baseman, is expected to set the tone for the Minutewomen offense, which features plenty of youth and inexperience.

“Kyllie’s been leading off for us, and when she starts the game off with a hit, it sets the tone right away and the hits follow so I think that it’s definitely contagious,” said Carta. “Once we collectively are [calmer collectively], then we’ll start producing more runs.”

More offense would be a welcome sight for junior ace Sara Plourde, who accounted for all four wins at the USF Under Armour Showcase, notching 54 strikeouts in 26.1 innings while allowing two runs. Last year’s national strikeout leader and A-10 Pitcher of the Year is 7-9 thus far with a 1.50 ERA. Despite the impressive statistics, she believes she has yet to reach peak form.

“I feel it coming together a lot more,” said Plourde. “This past week we kind of just broke everything down [and] took it back to basics and honestly that’s probably one of the best things I could’ve done.”

“She needs better break and location with her moving pitches, [as well as] the ability to deliver an off-speed pitch at will for a strike,” said Sortino.

The Minutewomen will play a doubleheader on Saturday against Temple and again on Sunday against Saint Joseph’s. Plourde will get the nod for at least two of those four games.

Temple (10-14, 1-1 A-10) has dropped four out of five, most recently losing a doubleheader against UMBC, 8-5 and 12-4, respectively. The Owls have a team batting average of .289, led by senior starter and outfielder Kristen Marris’ team-high .377 average. Marris also receives the majority of starts; she is 4-7 with a 4.14 ERA through 66 innings thus far.

Saint Joseph’s (16-10, 1-1 A-10) features two very strong hitters in junior third baseman Monica Aguilar (.441, 3 home runs, 22 RBI) and sophomore outfielder Dana Parks (.437, 11 SB). Junior Erin Gallagher is the ace of the staff, registering an 11-5 record with a 1.60 ERA and 98 strikeouts in 109.2 innings pitched.

“I think they’re going be tough,” said Sortino of both teams. “I think St. Joe’s fundamentally is very solid … Both teams are outhitting us, I mean most people in the country are [because] we got off to a really tough start, but we also played a really tough schedule with very, very young [players]. The bottom line is we’re getting better and all four games are going to be tough.”

Unsurprisingly, UMass has a target on its back this season as it is attempting to win its 15th conference championship in 16 years.

“I personally love it,” said Plourde. “I love playing hard teams and I love when they’re coming at us … I don’t want to know that I’m going to win, I want it to be a challenge.”

Steve Levine can be reached at slevine@student.umass.edu.

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