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November 16, 2017

UMass softball advances to A-10 Championship game

(Jong Man Kim/ Daily Collegian)

With the season on the line for the Massachusetts softball team, head coach Kristi Stefanoni went with her ace, and her ace delivered.

Just hours removed from a tough start against No. 1 seed Fordham earlier in the day, junior Meg Colleran bounced back in a huge way against No. 3 Saint Joseph’s, tossing a complete-game shutout to keep UMass’ season alive and sent the Minutewomen to the Atlantic 10 Championship game.

“Not our best showing, but we played well enough to win,” said Stefanoni. “Again, another gutsy performance by everybody, and especially Megan. She’s been an absolute workhorse for us these last couple of games, hasn’t shown and signs of being tired. We gutted this one out, big time.”

Colleran allowed just three hits and no walks in Saturday’s elimination game, while the UMass offense took advantage of Colleran’s gem in pushing across two runs in the fifth for a 2-0 win.

“I was extremely impressed,” said Stefanoni of Colleran’s performance. “I keep saying it, Megan truly is a workhorse for us and she’s been doing really well. I was extremely impressed by the way that she came out and the way that she pitched against a team that has seen her more than a few times, which is really difficult to do. She did a great job.”

St. Joe’s junior Madison Clarke had an excellent outing of her own, allowing just four hits and two unearned runs in six innings of work but her defense let her down in the bottom of the fifth.

Sophomore Kaitlyn Stavinoha stepped to the dish with two outs and runners on second and third, the best scoring opportunity the Minutewomen had all afternoon. Stavinoha hit what looked like a routine ground ball to second, but Hawks first baseman Caela Abadie couldn’t handle the throw and both runs scored to give Colleran some breathing room.

Sophomore Erin Stacevicz, standing on second when Stavinoha came up, never stopped running after contact was made and her heads-up baserunning earned UMass an extra insurance run.

At that point it was up to Colleran to shut the door and despite a hitter reaching in both the sixth and seventh innings, she closed out her fourth – and unquestionably most important – shutout of the season.

“I think in the first game I was not really commanding the zone,” Colleran said, “and [in the second game] I focused more on getting ahead, putting pitches where I wanted them, and letting a result happen instead of trying to make a result happen.”

The win over St. Joe’s sets up a rubber match with top-seeded Fordham on Sunday, with the Rams already having bested the Minutewomen in this tournament.

UMass was forced into an elimination game situation after losing to Fordham in its first game on Saturday afternoon. A big fifth inning helped the Rams to a 6-2 win, and put them in the driver’s seat for Sunday’s championship game.

“We played extremely tight,” said Stefanoni. “Very, very tight. We were pressing, every inning we felt like we had to do something. Somebody had to get a base hit to score these runs, they had to be the game winner, and we kinda stepped out of our process a little bit.”

Colleran also had the ball against Fordham, and threw a better game than her line would suggest. Five innings, nine hits and five runs allowed doesn’t sound great, but a bad-luck fifth inning was responsible for most of the damage. The Rams scored four times in the fifth, and each run came by way of a single through the infield; Colleran was getting the ground balls she needed, but they kept getting through.

“Definitely not my best,” Colleran said, “I felt like there were quite a few things that piled up in that one bad inning. I didn’t feel terrible, but it definitely wasn’t my best.”

“She was doing her job,” said Stefanoni. “Megan’s a ground ball pitcher and we needed to step up behind her and make the play when we needed to. I think we did that in game two, but we needed to step up and play better defense behind Megan in game one.”

Because of the loss and the tournament’s double-elimination format, the Minutewomen have their work cut out for them. Even if they win Sunday’s first game, they’ll need to top Fordham a second time to claim the title – however, the Rams only need one victory to win it all.

“We need to swing at strikes and stick with our game plan,” Stefanoni said. “Whatever our game plan will be against whatever pitcher we’re going to see, we need to stick to it and attack it.”

Sunday’s championship game is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. In the event that UMass wins that game, a final winner-takes-all contest will immediately follow.

Amin Touri can be reached at atouri@umass.edu and on Twitter @Amin_Touri.

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