March 3, 2015

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Minutewomen impressive at home, look towards practicing outdoors

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

Fourteen innings, 30 strikeouts, one no-hitter and two victories.

It was just another day on the mound for the Massachusetts softball team’s ace, Sara Plourde.

In UMass’ doubleheader against St. Bonaventure on Sunday, Plourde threw her third- consecutive no-hitter at home in the first game, leading the Minutewomen to 1-0 victory. The junior fanned 15 batters and walked three.

Plourde got the nod in the second game as well, filling in for fellow starters Caroline Raymond and Lindsey Webster, who are struggling with injuries. Plourde picked up right where she left off, firing 5.2 hitless innings before allowing a single. When all was said and done, Plourde, who was last week’s National Fastpitch Coaches Association Player of the Week, pitched the entire game, allowing two hits and one unearned run in UMass’ 7-1 victory.

While Plourde admitted she was a little upset at losing the second no-hitter, UMass head coach Elaine Sortino was not concerned.

“I don’t care about that stuff,” said Sortino. “A ‘W’ is a ‘W.’”

“I thought it was a pretty valiant effort on Sara’s part to be able to go back-to-back against a team that swings as hard and as free as they do,” added the coach.

Enjoying the UMass Softball Complex

With two more wins, the Minutewomen improved their home record to 6-0. Since 2006, UMass is 94-5-1 at home and it is currently on a nine-game undefeated streak within its own confines.

“It’s our field, and we’re going to protect our house and represent UMass,” said Webster.

“Being in your home environment, all your friends and family are able to come,” added Plourde. “I know my family can’t come to away games, so when they’re here it preps me even more. I think it helps having them here at the games.”

Although the statistics support UMass’ continuing home-field advantage, Sortino isn’t buying too much into it.

“I don’t think it’s a matter of being here. This time of the season, we’ve had to weather a lot of storms in terms of injuries, youth [and] inexperience,” said Sortino. “I think the team is just playing better, I think they played really well at BU the other day, actually better than they did here today.”

Looking ahead

While the Minutewomen are certainly playing their best ball of the season, Sortino wants her team to stay grounded and understand there’s much more work to do. Weather and scheduling have prevented UMass from practicing much outside, and Sortino knows there’s only so much the team can accomplish indoors.

“I think [there are] things we need to work on offensively in terms of our pitch selection,” said Sortino. “We’re going to have our fourth practice outside tomorrow. So the things we’ve been able to just start to do like base-running, reading balls offensively and defensively as a baserunner… We’ve got a lot to work on; I’ve got a list five miles long.”

The Minutewomen have a very busy upcoming schedule and will seek to keep the momentum going. Starting April 13, UMass will play eight games in 12 days. The Minutewomen will be on the road for the first four before returning home for two doubleheaders against Syracuse on April 22 and George Washington on April 24. UMass has taken full advantage of doubleheaders this year, with an 11-3 record.

“It takes us a while to get going, so the second game is always so much better than the first, which is so annoying,” said Webster, laughing. “We’ll win the first game 1-0 and we’ll smoke them the next game, and that seems to be a pattern. Doubleheaders definitely get our pitchers going… [Plourde] almost had another no-hitter [and] she’s just amazing. [Doubleheaders] get us a lot of practice and keep our stamina and our energy up.”

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

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