After junior Sara Plourde collected her eighth career no-hitter, she followed it up just two hours later with 1.2 additional hitless innings of relief as the Massachusetts softball team swept Saint Louis in Sunday afternoon’s doubleheader in Amherst.
Plourde collected her second no-hitter in five days and her second in a row, racking up 19 strikeouts and two wins on Sunday, as she continues to work her way back to full strength from injury.
“She keeps getting better,” said UMass coach Elaine Sortino. “Obviously it’s no secret that she was hurt. We’ve had to start her very gingerly, and she’s been roughed up a little bit. But we figured some things out this week that have really started to click in for her and she’s getting stronger as the season’s going on.”
“It’s just really good to see her back like that,” Sortino added. “She looks tough.”
Seven of Plourde’s first eight outs in game one were strikeouts, as she recorded at least two punch-outs in every inning. Each Billiken batter took turns trying to poke her pitches to the opposite field, as Plourde overwhelmed them with her speed.
Plourde has now gone 17.2 innings in a row across a span of four different games without surrendering a hit.
“We can tell [she is recovering from her injury] by her pitches, by the ball placement, by the way people are swinging and missing and fouling balls off,” said Sortino. “She’s really stepping back into her game. It’s good that we’re building instead of deteriorating.”
The Minutewomen (13-14, 5-3 Atlantic 10) rode their ace to a second doubleheader sweep this week. The first one came Wednesday against Dartmouth, when Plourde went seven hitless innings in game one, followed by two more hitless frames in the second game. Her two-inning effort in the second game earned Plourde her first save of the season.
Sunday’s game called for Plourde to relieve freshman Caroline Raymond in the sixth inning of a 3-3 ballgame. After laboring for most of the day with control problems, Raymond allowed a one-out infield single in front of the Saint Louis No. 3 hitter. That’s when Sortino made the call.
“Caroline gave us five good innings,” said Sortino. “But Sara knew that if the game stayed close, and it was, then she was ready in the later innings.”
Plourde immediately ended any sort of threat, striking out the first batter she faced and getting the following hitter to pop out to short. Her 1-2-3 seventh inning was the first time all game that the first three batters of the inning went down in order.
The Minutewomen sealed the victory in the bottom half of the inning to hand Plourde her second win of the day.
“As a defensive player, you always have confidence when she’s in the circle,” said Teea Rogers, who smacked the game-winning single. “We have Caroline Raymond, who’s a very powerful pitcher and always gets the job done, but if something happens, we have that weapon in the back and we know we’re going to be comfortable no matter what.”
Regardless of the situation, Plourde’s mentality does not change. Whether she is starting or relieving, she’s going to be ready.
“It doesn’t really matter to me at all,” said Plourde. “Caroline went out there and threw a great game, and if [Sortino] needed me, I was there.”
Plourde is now 11-10 on the season, sporting a 1.51 earned run average. Her 143.1 total innings pitched are more than double the 70 hits she’s surrendered.
Pete Vasquez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.