As the air warms and the sun shines a little brighter every day, it seems that spring has finally arrived, and with it comes the promise of home runs, strikeouts, and everything else that is the game of softball.
For the Massachusetts softball team, spring could not have come soon enough.
The Minutewomen (13-10, 2-0 Atlantic 10) have high expectations, and with all but two members of their starting lineup returning from last season, they can head into the season with a sense of familiarity.
Last season, UMass compiled an impressive 29-19 record in which they went 14-3 at home and 14-5 in the A-10, despite going 5-13 in neutral games.
Junior outfielder Cyndil Matthew started all 48 games for the Minutewomen and led the team in batting with a .324 average, while sophomore outfielder Lindsey Webster led the team in homers (eight), slugging percentage (.577) and on-base percentage (.392).
Also impressive for UMass last season was senior pitcher Sara Plourde. Plourde went 27-15 in 44 appearances and earned a remarkable 1.30 earned run average in 38 complete games, in addition to 13 shutouts.
Plourde also earned several awards last year for her impressive season, including A-10 Pitcher of the Year and selections to the A-10 All-Conference First Team and the Easton All-American Second Team. Plourde also led the nation in strikeouts for the second consecutive year with 498.
Overall, the Minutewomen bested their opponents with superior fielding (.962 percent compared to .956 percent), runs scored (183 to 111), batting average (.238 to .155) and ERA (1.57 to 2.91). With the combined star power and overall effectiveness in nearly every category as a team, UMass had a powerhouse collection of talent that put it amongst the elite of the A-10.
Now, with home play just about to begin, the team already appears to be right on track to success.
The Minutewomen have amassed a 10-8 record in neutral contests and are currently undefeated within the A-10. As can be expected, UMass’ offense has really begun to click on all cylinders.
Matthew is off to a hot start, as she boasts a .408 average with 22 runs scored, 29 hits and a .481 on-base percentage, all of which lead the team. Freshman shortstop Quianna Diaz-Patterson has also put up impressive numbers, especially considering that this is her first season of collegiate play. Diaz-Patterson has started all 23 games and is hitting .312 with 24 hits, but has really stood out offensively for her power hitting. Diaz-Patterson leads the team with three homers and 19 runs batted in, while also sporting a towering .545 slugging percentage.
Pitching has also proved to be one of the Minutewomen’s strongest traits this season. Plourde has a 12-8 record in 21 appearances (19 starts), from which she has earned a 2.77 ERA and 17 complete games (four shutouts) in 124 innings pitched. Even more impressive, however, is her 216 strikeouts, a total made more significant by the fact that she is now only seven strikeouts away from breaking the UMass career strikeout record.
As the Minutewomen prepare to open their home schedule on Tuesday, they return to Amherst with an explosive offense, a shutdown pitching staff and an all-around solid fielding defense that already shows signs of poise and effectiveness.
The squad seems to operate with a strong sense of familiarity and trust, and when added to a healthy combination of veteran leadership and young talent, UMass is again making a serious case as one of the top teams in the A-10, and certainly one of the better teams in the country.
David Martin can be reached at email@example.com.