The Massachusetts softball team appears to have a full head of steam as it rolls through its conference schedule.
The Minutewomen (13-14, 5-3 Atlantic 10) swept Sunday’s doubleheader at the UMass Softball Complex against Saint Louis (21-16, 6-4 A-10), 4-0 and 4-3, respectively. Junior pitcher Sara Plourde recorded her second-consecutive no-hitter in game one, striking out 16 in the complete game effort. Freshman pitcher Caroline Raymond got the nod in game two, throwing 5.1 innings while giving up three runs (none earned) on four hits, five walks and four strikeouts.
The UMass offense backed Plourde’s dominant first game effort with four runs, three of which came during a fifth inning rally sparked by redshirt junior Stephanie Mayne’s solo home run to center field. Sophomore Cyndil Matthew followed with a hit-by-pitch and promptly stole second for her team-leading ninth steal in nine attempts. Junior Kyllie Magill then drove in Matthew with a single to left center. Freshman Lindsey Webster followed with a single before stealing second. Magill then stole home to cap the rally, putting the Minutewomen up, 3-0.
The three-run cushion was more than enough for Plourde, who cruised to the victory with the eighth no-hitter of her career. Plourde and her teammates hoped to add to the momentum, and immediately shifted their attention to game two.
“If you have a good game one, then you go to game two and you’re like, ‘Okay, I know I can do it [again],’” said Plourde.
The second half of the doubleheader was much closer, as the two teams went back-and-forth before sophomore Teea Rogers ended it in the seventh inning with a walk-off single to left field to score senior Audrey Boutin. Rogers made up for a throwing error she made in the third inning, which led to three unearned runs and a 3-2 Billikens lead.
“That was her pitch,” said UMass head coach Elaine Sortino of Rogers’ walk-off hit. “She had been taking it the whole game and she just turned on it and so it went.”
“It was a good [moment],” added Rogers. “It felt nice to be the one to lift the team in the end. I had a bobble in the middle of the game that cost us some runs, so it was nice to get it all back.”
Following Rogers’ error, Raymond kept UMass in it on the mound despite a lack of command. Over 5.1 innings, Raymond walked five and hit three before handing the ball to Plourde, who shut SLU down over the remainder of the game, setting the stage for Rogers’ heroics.
Sortino was relieved to know that Plourde was waiting in the wings to quell any Billiken rally. After striking out the first batter in the sixth inning, Raymond gave up a single, which prompted Sortino to send in Plourde for relief. Plourde then struck out the next batter before inducing a pop up to junior shortstop Jordan Storro to end the inning. After UMass failed to score in the bottom half, Plourde retired the side in the top of the seventh, striking out two. With the effort, Plourde ran her consecutive hitless innings streak to 17.2, breaking the school record set in 1983.
“Sara knew that… she would be ready in the later innings and she was,” said Sortino. “There’s nobody you want more with the ball in her hand than her.”
“We can feel that every day we’re getting better,” said Rogers. “It’s nice to get our first sweep of the conference season, and it’s only going to go up from here.”
The Minutewomen have won four straight and six of their last seven. They will host Connecticut on April 5 before traveling to Boston the following day for a game against Boston University. Both games are scheduled for 4 p.m.
Steve Levine can be reached at email@example.com.