Nothing could slow down Sara Plourde.
With two on and two outs in the top of the third inning, the senior pitcher for the Massachusetts softball team fired a pitch that deflected off the finger of Quinnipiac second baseman Jacquie Ristow, but was ruled a foul ball. Plourde was left waiting through a brief delay while Ristow was being attended to.
Ristow’s injury was significant enough that it forced her to leave the game during her at-bat. Kourtney Kesses came in to replace Ristow as a pinch hitter. Plourde wasted no time with Kesses. She struck her out with a heater up the middle which Kesses could not keep up with. The strikeout moved Plourde into first all-time on the school’s strikeout list.
“Something I’ve learned from being here is you have to take advantage of the time you’re given,” said Plourde. “If I’m given a big break like that where it shifts my momentum, I just have to zone in and stay focused on what I need to do.
“Sometimes it helps me to get a break like that so I can clear my mind,” said Plourde.
With the strikeout, Plourde passed former Minutewomen Danielle Henderson’s mark of 1,343.
If you ask UMass coach Elaine Sortino about Plourde’s record-breaking performance, she will tell you it was simply another day in her life.
“I think when you have great players like Sara Plourde, or any athlete at this school, those days are days that people get excited about on the outside, but for the true competitors like Sara, the game is more important than the record,” said Sortino.
Neither the delay before the record-breaking pitch, nor the inclement weather could stand in Plourde’s way of breaking the record.
With Tuesday’s game being canceled due to poor weather, and Wednesday’s pushed an hour because of rain, Plourde was left waiting to get her chance.
The extra wait didn’t appear to slow her down, however, as Plourde wasted no time to close in on the record. She struck out the first five batters she faced to move within two of breaking Henderson’s mark.
Plourde felt no reason to think about the record despite the hype heading into the game.
“Before the game I try not to think about [the record],” said Plourde. “It’s all about taking it out-by-out. I didn’t know when I was going to break the record, but I tried not to think about it because all it does is stress you out.”
With a total of 15 strikeouts in the contest, Plourde moved her career mark to 1,353, placing her 15th in NCAA history. Next in line is former Louisiana State pitcher Britni Sneed who struck out 1,370 batters in her career.
All of the accolades that Plourde’s accumulated throughout her career – including being drafted ninth overall in the National Pro Fastpitch draft by the Carolina Diamonds on March 8 – are helping her make a case for the best pitcher in school history.
“I would definitely place her among the top pitchers in our program,” said Sortino. “[Each pitcher] has brought very different characteristics and abilities to help our program be a top 25 program and go to the College World Series.
“They’re all so different you can’t rate one above the other,” Sortino added. “They’re invaluable.”
Making things even sweeter for Plourde was getting the 1-0 win along with registering her fourth no-hitter of the season.
“It would’ve been rough [if we had lost], but I’ll definitely take [the no-hitter] too,” said Plourde.
Considering the nature of the game of college softball, and the difficulty of achieving such a mark, Sortino feels a part of Plourde’s record was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“It’s too bad more people didn’t show up to see something that they’ll never see again,” said Sortino. “I don’t think that record is going to be touched because by the time she graduates it’s going to be a lot higher than what it is today.”
Regardless of the humble attitude displayed by Sortino and her record-setting ace, seeing Plourde and her mother embrace through the fence after the game tells the story of how important of an achievement like this really is.
While today marks a record to be celebrated for Plourde, she will continue to climb the all-time mark as the season continues and the strikeouts continue to add up.
For now, however, no strikeout was more important than 1,344.
Nick Canelas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @MDC_Canelas.