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Cyr: Expectations for UMass men’s basketball remain consistent throughout 2016-17 season -

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Nineteen turnovers sink UMass men’s basketball in loss to Fordham Saturday -

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Atlantic 10 season winding down

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

Prior to the start of the softball season, Atlantic 10 coaches predicted Massachusetts to win the conference, with Fordham and Charlotte finishing in second and third, respectively.

As of April 22, the coaches weren’t too far off, as Fordham led the A-10 with a 12-3 conference record and UMass sat in third with an 8-3 conference record. Charlotte, however, was in fifth with an 8-4 record. The biggest A-10 surprise is Temple, which finished with an 8-12 conference record last year. The Owls have taken a complete turnaround this year, compiling an 11-3 record, good for second place.

Much of Temple’s success this year has revolved around senior Kristen Marris, who emerged as the staff’s ace and one of the team’s most dependable hitters in 2010. Marris posted a 2.65 ERA and a 13-15 record on the mound, while batting .290 at the dish. While Marris is playing up to her expectations this year (14-8, 2.33 ERA and a .373 batting average), it is her teammates that are making this year’s campaign more successful than the 2010 season.

Temple’s biggest surprise is freshman Stephanie Pasquale, who is leading the team in RBIs (30) and tied for first in home runs (6). She also owns a .355 average, good for third on the team.

The Owls have had additional surprises as well. Junior outfielder Christina Sykora has matured as a hitter, increasing her average 65 points from .257 to .322. Sykora had 12 RBIs last year, and has increased that mark to 21 this season.

Another pleasant surprise has been junior middle infielder Rachel Knable. Last season, Knable finished .252/5/21. So far this season, she’s .307/4/22.

Temple also proved it can compete with Fordham and UMass. On March 26, the Owls split a home doubleheader against the Minutewomen, winning game 1, 7-1, and losing game 2, 12-2. On April 2, the Owls split an away doubleheader against the Rams, winning game 1, 7-4, and losing game 2, 6-4.

Fordham’s dominance

Fordham is exceeding their high expectations as well, as the Rams have occupied the A-10’s top spot throughout most of the season.

Senior Jocelyn Dearborn and junior Jen Mineau are the main reasons for Fordham’s conference-leading 12-3 record. Dearborn, who has started in all 48 games, is one of the nation’s best hitters. The senior is leading the team in the Triple Crown categories (.391 average, 13 home runs, 36 RBIs). She also is a perfect 8-for-8 in stolen base attempts.

Mineau, who was elected to the Atlantic-10 All-Rookie Team in 2009, emerged as Fordham’s all-time best pitcher last year, setting new school records in games started, complete games, complete game shutouts, wins, innings pitched, strikeouts, and ERA. This year, Mineau is picking up right where she left off, compiling a 15-7 record and a 1.69 ERA to go along with 192 strikeouts in 141 innings.

But it isn’t just Mineau who is finding great success on the rubber for the Rams. Senior Chelsea Plimpton, who has thrown 20 more innings than Mineau, also has 15 wins and a 2.21 ERA.

Fordham has a crucial two-game series at UMass beginning on April 29. The series is sure to have major implications regarding seeding for the A-10 championships.

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

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