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Despite title-game loss, Meg Colleran’s brilliance in circle was an incredible feat

(Jong Man Kim/ Daily Collegian)

Three days, five starts, 33.1 innings, close to 500 total pitches, just 10 earned runs allowed, a 2.11 earned run average and the Atlantic 10 softball championship’s Most Outstanding Player award.

What Meg Colleran did this weekend was the stuff of legend.

Throwing five times in three days this weekend, Colleran was consistently excellent, and put the Massachusetts softball team in position to claim its first A-10 title since 2012. And even though the Minutewomen fell short, Colleran’s performance will go down as one of the finest in UMass postseason history.

Shutting down the best offensive teams in the conference, Colleran threw stellar inning after stellar inning, and even when signs of fatigue crept in, she was dominant as ever. Her 3-2 tournament record might not suggest it, but her weekend was incredible.

Opening the tournament with a second round game against Saint Joseph’s, Colleran showed that she didn’t need much run support to win. Allowing just five hits and one earned run in seven innings, Colleran struck out seven Hawks en route to a 2-1 victory.

“I think Meg did really well today,” said Stefanoni after the opener against St. Joe’s, “There were a few innings there where she had some back-to-back walks, and she was able to come through with a strikeout and keep us in the game. She did a really, really nice job, and she’s obviously a huge part of why we won.”

Colleran’s seven strikeouts on Friday afternoon was the highest total of her weekend, and they came in some big spots, setting down hitters on strikes to get out of multiple jams.

“[The strikeouts] gave me a ton of confidence,” Colleran said Thursday, “those were nice to have.”

Her second start of the weekend was her toughest, but it was also her unluckiest. Throwing against Fordham on Saturday, the best offensive team in the tournament, Colleran gave up five runs in five innings of work, but almost all of the damage was done in the bottom of the fifth, when Colleran kept forcing the ground balls she wanted, but they kept finding a hole in the infield.

“I think they were just hitting the ball where we weren’t,” said Colleran after the Fordham start. “There were ground balls, but they were getting through. Luck wasn’t on our side today.”

Colleran bounced back in a big way Friday evening. Taking the ball for the second time on the day, Colleran was absolutely lights-out with the season on the line.

Facing the Hawks again in an elimination game, Colleran tossed a complete-game shutout, allowing just three hits and no runs as Minutewomen took a 2-0 win and moved on to Sunday’s championship game. It was the fourth time that St. Joe’s had faced Colleran this season, but they certainly didn’t have her figured out.

“Megan’s been an absolute workhorse for us these last couple games,” Stefanoni said after the St. Joe’s victory. “She hasn’t shown any signs of being tired, she was ready to go. We gutted that one out, big time.”

After beating St. Joe’s, UMass entered Sunday with a big task ahead of them – having already lost one, the Minutewomen needed to beat Fordham twice to take home the A-10 championship, but one loss would sink them.

It was Sunday that Colleran’s weekend turned from impressive to incredible.

The Fordham Rams had averaged over six runs a game, and boasted the most impressive lineup in the conference. They’d already seen Colleran three times this season, but that didn’t matter; she was dominant all the same.

“You think that after you see a pitcher so many times and so many innings that you would be able to capitalize on different things, but she was able to just go out and get the job done when she needed to,” Stefanoni said. “She was able to keep them off-balance, I think she frustrated them a lot and she was able to keep them at bay for us to come back.”

Throwing for the fourth time in three days and with the season hanging in the balance, Colleran threw eight excellent innings, allowing just four hits and two earned runs to keep her team alive. A big UMass comeback in the seventh, only possible because of Colleran’s pitching, was followed by a go-ahead sacrifice fly in the eighth to put the Minutewomen up 3-2. From there, Colleran shut the door on the Rams and forced a winner-takes-all game for the championship 30 minutes later.

Her final start might have been her most impressive, if only because of the guts and courage Colleran showed on the mound. Visibly tiring in her fifth start in three days, Colleran was shaking her arm out through the middle innings, but dominant all the same. After four shutout innings, Fordham finally got to her, plating a run in the fifth to tie the game.

The UMass offense couldn’t find the second run it needed to put Colleran in position to win, and she just kept on throwing, getting out of jam after jam, thanks in part to some excellent defense, throwing 138 pitches in Sunday’s second game – bringing her pitch count to 237 on the day – and never skipping a beat.

In the end, her epic performance wasn’t enough, as Rams pitcher Madie Aughinbaugh doubled to right in the bottom of the ninth to win it for Fordham, ending Colleran’s remarkable run and the Minutewomen’s season.

“She kept people guessing a lot, her changeup was really good today, she kept the ball low,” said Stefanoni. “Megan did everything she needed to do in order for us to win. She did everything she possibly could.”

Though UMass did not claim this year’s A-10 championship, Colleran’s brilliance did not go unnoticed. Though she came from the losing team, Colleran was deservingly awarded the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player trophy, and her performance this weekend will forever be one of the most impressive in the tournament’s history.

“That is a typical UMass workhorse pitcher,” says Stefanoni. “She is born and bred UMass softball, Megan Colleran is the definition of that. I have gone through pitchers like Kaila Holtz, Brandice Balschmiter, Sara Plourde, players that rank at the top of UMass record books, and that’s exactly where Megan is headed if she’s not there already. It’s a really phenomenal thing, and that’s a really amazing group to be a part of. She’s very lucky and she’s very good.”

Even if Colleran hasn’t quite racked up the accolades that names like Holtz, Balschmiter, and Plourde earned in their time as Minutewomen, what she did this weekend puts her in that company.

Colleran is a junior, and will return for her final season in the maroon and white next season. Having picked up her second consecutive All-Conference First Team nod this spring, she’ll undoubtedly be the key for this team next season.

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

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