With no outs and an 0-2 count on Christina Valdes in the sixth inning of Wednesday’s matchup with Boston University, Sara Plourde stared deep into the catcher’s mitt of Meghan Carta, aiming to place her name in the Massachusetts softball history books.
Plourde wound up and fired a fastball that blazed past the swinging bat of Valdes and into the glove of Carta for strike three. With the strikeout, she became the third pitcher in Minutewomen history to eclipse 1,000 strikeouts for a career, and first to do it before her senior season.
“I think it’s outstanding,” said UMass coach Elaine Sortino. “For her to be, with a lot of season left and only in her junior year, I just think it’s an outstanding accomplishment. When you consider the fact that, as a freshman, she threw very few games, that says a lot for her sophomore and junior year outputs. We’re very fortunate to have her.”
Coming into the game, the junior right-hander needed 11 strikeouts to achieve the feat. After striking out the side in her first two innings of work, it appeared she was well on her way to passing the mark.
It wasn’t until the sixth inning, however, until she recorded the strikeout as she sent away Valdes in three pitches to begin the frame. All of her teammates, well aware of their ace’s triumph, crowded around her in celebration as the game was momentarily stopped to recognize the accomplishment. However, Plourde, as she admits, didn’t appear to get the memo.
“I had no idea,” said Plourde. “When I saw the catcher and everyone else running back over to me, I was like, ‘Why are you running at me?’”
Plourde is behind just Brandice Balschmiter and Danielle Henderson on the all-time strikeouts list, and it seems that she will be well on her way to passing those two as the sun sets on her senior season next year.
After her performance today, Plourde owns 1,003 strikeouts for her career, 215 shy of Balschmiter’s 1,218 and 345 short of Henderson’s 1,348. Barring any injuries and unforeseen circumstances, the Bristol, Conn. native is on pace to passing Henderson and then some.
“It feels pretty good,” said Plourde of being mentioned among the UMass greats. “Danielle’s been to the Olympics and Brandice has been on the USA team, and knowing that I’m doing something that they have done, I mean being half the pitcher that they are is amazing.”
It seems that Plourde has come full-circle since sustaining an injury in the postseason last year against this very BU squad.
After suffering a hip injury that limited her abilities, she was rocked by the Terriers, as she gave up four runs in the first inning. The Minutewomen ultimately lost, 10-4, in a season-ending loss that capped a sensational year by Plourde in which she threw a nation-best 556 strikeouts and racked up 40 wins.
Fast forward to this spring, and the All-American is rebounding very well, compiling a 21-11 record, 380 strikeouts and a career-best 1.23 ERA.
“I definitely feel like I’m improving,” said Plourde. “Things are starting to click, things are falling together. We’re working at it every day to find new things out. It’s working. It’s going the right way.”
Stephen Hewitt can be reached at email@example.com.