Game after game, the mystique surrounding Sara Plourde continues to build.
The sophomore pitcher for the Massachusetts softball team placed herself in the record books yesterday as she broke UMass’ all-time strikeout record, in a 1-0 win over Quinnipiac and threw her sixth career no-hitter.
The game was also the Minutewomen’s (14-10, 2-0 Atlantic 10) home opener after starting the season with 23 straight road contests.
Plourde started the game on fire, mowing down the first five hitters she faced, which moved her only two strikeouts away from the school record. She tied the record in the second inning and then she registered her seventh punch-out of the game in the third for her school record 1,344th strikeout. The previous school record was held by Danielle Henderson, who held the record since 1999.
Plourde went seven innings, did not allow a hit, walked three batters and struck out 15. She now has 1,353 career strikeouts which moves her to 15th place in NCAA history.
“Before the game, I tried not to think about the record, but obviously because of all the posts and stuff that people put out, I knew how many strikeouts I needed, but you still need to go out by out,” said Plourde.
After a rather slow start to the game, the Minutewomen broke open the scoreless tie in the bottom-half of the third inning on a two-out, run scoring double by Quianna Diaz-Patterson that brought in Teea Rogers from first.
The Bobcats (13-9, 2-2 Northeast Conference) had its first real opportunity against Plourde in the top of the fifth inning, when they put together a two-out rally, via two walks and an error, but Plourde was able to get out of a bases loaded situation with her 12th strikeout of the game.
“Anything definitely could have happened. I had to really zone in and stay pitch by pitch, see what happens and just go with that,” she said. “If you start thinking about everything else, the only thing that really matters is what you’re throwing to the batter.”
After the threat by the Bobcats in the fifth inning, the rest of the game played out as a pitchers’ duel. Quinnipiac pitcher Heather Schwartzburg did her best to keep her team in the game. She accumulated 11 strikeouts of her own and did not allow a UMass base runner to advance past first base after the third inning in her complete game effort.
UMass coach Elaine Sortino, now in her 33rd season with the team, has had the privilege of coaching Plourde through her entire career and was happy for her All-American pitcher, but relieved that the team was able to pull out the victory.
“I think when you have great players like Sarah Plourde or any player or any athlete at this school, these days are days that people get excited about on the outside, but to the true competitors, the game is more important than the record. It’s a tremendous accomplishment over a long period of time.”
Along with Diaz-Patterson’s RBI double, the Minutewomen got its offense from junior outfielder Katie Bettencourt, sophomore Lindsey Webster, and Plourde, who all pitched in with a hit apiece.
The win was UMass’ eighth in its last 11 games after starting the season off 6-7. The Minutewomen will continue its current three-game home stand with two games this weekend against Atlantic 10 rival, Dayton on Friday and Saturday. Friday’s game is scheduled for a 3 p.m. start.
Patrick Strohecker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at MDC_Strohecker.