In addition to playing volleyball and basketball for Westfield High School in N.J., Matthew excelled mostly on the softball diamond, where she set records for highest batting average (.642), most doubles in a season (11), most career hits (130) and home runs in a season (20).
Matthew batted primarily right-handed in high school, which has changed ever since putting on an UMass uniform. Matthew now bats left-handed and is primarily a slap hitter, an approach meant to utilize her speed by putting the ball in play and pressuring the defense.
“When she got here we knew that we were going to need her speed,” said UMass assistant coach Kristi Stefanoni. “She is fastest [down the line] from the left side so when she got here it was all slapping. As long as she runs like that, she’ll be left-handed forever.”
Typically, a speedy contact hitter would be placed in the leadoff spot of the lineup. Matthew, however, bats in the nine spot.
Matthew and leadoff hitter Kyllie Magill are responsible for 30 of UMass’ 114 runs as well as 16-of -44 steals. Magill is 7-for-8 in stolen base attempts while Matthew is 9-for-9.
“She’s like our second leadoff [hitter],” said Stefanoni. “She’s someone we can depend on to get on base and use her speed and then have the heart of the order… [come up] to drive Cyndil in.”
Much like the rest of the Minutewomen, Matthew struggled at the plate to start the season. However, Matthew has raised her average from .203 to .247 while scoring six runs and stealing three bases over UMass’ last 10 games, in which the Minutewomen are 9-1 over that span. With continued starting experience, Stefanoni expects her development to continue.
“She has [developed] so much; she has become a triple threat,” said Stefanoni. “When she first got here, it was tough for her with slapping and trying to learn the difference between a softer slap and harder slap and a bunt because the defense is so much better at this level and she has to be able to read what the defense is doing.”
Since adopting her new approach, Matthew has studied and tried to replicate professional softball players. Perhaps the best player to emulate is Natasha Watley, a current member of the USA’s Softball Women’s National Team and a world-renowned slap hitter. Unsurprisingly, Watley is Matthew’s favorite player.
“We have her look at Watley as much as she possibly can,” Stefanoni said. “She’s done her own research, she’s Youtube’d videos.”
Matthew’s speed is what sets her apart from other players. In order to utilize that speed, however, she has to get on base. The Minutewomen would like to see her on base percentage increase, as it currently sits at .319.
Even with her speed, Matthew will have to wait for the green light from UMass head coach Elaine Sortino.
“It’s different from baseball [where] there’s a bigger lead,” said Sortino. “I do think that there are green light conditions that can result at the plate with a mishandle or a bobble that she knows [she can go]. A straight steal, though, I wouldn’t be too happy because it’s too easy to get doubled up.”
Steve Levine can be reached at email@example.com.