April 16, 2014

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Minutewomen’s streak hits 9

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

The Massachusetts softball team just won’t stop winning.

The Minutewomen extended their winning-streak to nine games on Wednesday, defeating non-conference opponent Connecticut, 2-0, behind Sara Plourde’s complete game shutout and Stephanie Mayne’s two-run home run.

After struggling in the start the season, UMass (18-14, 9-3 Atlantic 10) is playing up to preseason expectations as of late, thanks in large part to Plourde’s nearly unhittable pitching. Plourde’s complete game shutout over the Huskies (17-20) was her ninth complete game in as many starts, recording an 8-1 record.

Both Plourde and UConn’s starter Ali Adelman looked strong early on, with both holding their opponents scoreless through the first two innings. Adelman worked through a bases-loaded jam in the top of the second, but could not get any run support in the bottom half as Plourde struck out the side.

The Minutewomen broke through in the top of the third, when freshman Lindsey Webster (2-for-2, two walks) led off the inning with a single. After moving to second on a sacrifice bunt, Mayne crushed Adelman’s 0-2 pitch well over the right-center field fence for her fourth home run of the season, putting the Minutewomen up, 2-0.

“I don’t know how many balls she fouled off before she hit that home run,” said UMass coach Elaine Sortino. “When she [finally] got that ball over the plate, [she hit] a monster shot. It would’ve been a double-fencer at the UMass Softball Complex.”

The two runs were all UMass would need, as Plourde cruised to her team-leading 16th victory, giving up three hits and no walks while striking out 13. Although Plourde has looked untouchable recently, Sortino has seen better from her All-American pitcher.

“She’s honestly starting to hit her stride,” said Sortino. “She’s nowhere near where we want her to be yet. She’s getting a little better each day and there’s still room for her to grow.”

Despite all the recent wins, the Minutewomen would like to see their offense get hot. During its current nine-game winning streak, UMass has won five of those games by three runs or less. Although the Minutewomen stranded 10 runners on base against UConn, the opportunities were there and Sortino explained that her offense is starting to come around.

“We created a lot of opportunities that we couldn’t finish,” said Sortino. “We’re starting to have better at bats, and we’re taking pitchers deeper in counts and getting more aggressive. All of those things are starting to show up and this is the time, at the end of the season, where [it’s most important].”

The Minutewomen were the preseason favorites to win the A-10 conference. With its extended surge, UMass currently are tied with Temple (18-18, 9-3 A-10) for the second spot. Fordham (28-16, 11-3 A-10) remains in first.

Sortino attributed her team’s early season struggles to a number of things, including a very difficult non-conference schedule, a young team and a number of injuries. Following the UConn victory, UMass is healthy ­– except for Katie Bettencourt’s injury-related absence – and using its early season struggles to its advantage valuable experience.

“I really thought from the beginning that it was a matter of time,” said Sortino. “I don’t mean to be cliché, but as tough as it was to start, we knew that if we stayed focused on what we needed to do, that we’d be hanging around at the end [of the season].”

The Minutewomen return to action on Thursday when they host Fairfield at 5 p.m. for the first game of a 12-game homestand.

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

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