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UMass softball loses in heartbreaker in A-10 title game

(Jong Man Kim/ Daily Collegian)

In the end, the Massachusetts softball team fell just short.

After keeping the season alive with an incredible seventh-inning comeback in game one on Sunday, UMass just couldn’t push across runs when they needed to in the Atlantic 10 championship game eventually falling to Fordham 2-1 in nine innings.

The comeback win in game one forced a winner-takes-all rubber match on Sunday afternoon. However, the Minutewomen failed to capitalize on a spectacular performance from junior Meg Colleran as the Rams walked off with an RBI double in the bottom of the eleventh inning.

Despite the loss, UMass coach Kristi Stefanoni had nothing but positive things to say about her team.

“I think we played absolutely phenomenal,” Stefanoni said. “We absolutely fought, and we battled. It just stinks that in a game like that, someone has to lose and unfortunately we were on the losing side of it today and that was the most heartbreaking part. They played absolutely phenomenal, all the way around. We showed up today and we picked a good day to show up, it just stinks that it didn’t go our way at the end.”

UMass took a 1-0 lead in the first inning of game two after senior Jena Cozza managed to get out of a rundown between third and home to score. However, Fordham tied things up in the fifth when senior Sydney Canessa smacked an RBI double to left field.

The two teams went to extra innings for the second time on the afternoon and though the Minutewomen had several opportunities to hang the winning run on the board, they never capitalized. UMass managed 13 hits in Sunday’s finale, but could only plate a single run.

Colleran, throwing for the fifth time in three days and the second time on Sunday, began to tire late as her pitch count stretched past 130 on the game and well past 200 on the day.

Eventually something had to give and it did in the bottom of the ninth. After Colleran allowed back-to-back singles to open the inning, Rams pitcher Madie Aughinbaugh dropped an RBI double into right field and Fordham walked off with their fifth consecutive A-10 tournament title.

The Minutewomen, meanwhile, were left heartbroken.

“It was all coming together,” Stefanoni said. “It just stinks that the last couple of innings it was just a couple of bloop singles and it didn’t fall our way.”

Her performance Sunday was the finale of an incredibly gutsy weekend performance from Colleran as the junior righty threw 8.1 innings, allowing just two earned runs against a team that had been run-ruling opponent after opponent for several weeks.

“Honestly I felt like I was throwing pretty well today, for the amount of innings I threw,” Colleran said of her performance on Sunday. “Towards the end I was starting to get hit a little bit, they were starting to get balls in gaps, but overall I felt like I threw decent.”

UMass only found itself in position to take home an A-10 title after a clutch comeback in the seventh inning of Sunday’s first game.

The Minutewomen entered Sunday with a tough task, needing to win two games to top the Rams in the tournament’s double elimination format. Having lost to Fordham Saturday, UMass was only one loss away from elimination, and had very little room for error.

Colleran was strong again, allowing just two earned runs and four hits in eight innings against the best offensive team in the conference. After allowing a run in the first inning, Colleran rolled through the next few, mowing down hitter after hitter, but UMass couldn’t find a run.

Rams freshman Skylar Johnston launched a solo home run in the bottom of the sixth to double Fordham’s lead, it appeared to be a dagger in UMass’ season.

The Minutewomen, however, weren’t going down without a fight.

Down 2-0 and down to its last three outs, UMass managed to get a couple runners on when Madi Gimpl walked and Tara Klee singled through the right side. Melissa Garcia bunted the runners over to bring up Ashton Wince with two runners in scoring position and one out.

Wince’s sacrifice fly was enough to score Caitlyn Hickey, pinch-running for Gimpl. Candace Denis then stepped to the plate with two outs, Klee on third, and the Minutewomen down to their final out. Using her impressive speed, Denis beat out an infield single to short, Klee scored to tie it and UMass was still alive.

Colleran continued to shut down the Rams’ bats in the seventh and eighth. Meanwhile, Kaitlyn Stavinoha led off the eighth inning with a triple to right, Cozza scored her on a sacrifice fly and Colleran shut the door in the bottom of the eighth to force one more game.

The comeback was a team effort, through and through.

“They’ve gone beyond impressing me,” said Stefanoni of the comeback. “Nothing really surprises me anymore and that’s why I’ve had so much confidence in them this season, I know they’ll always show up at the end and get it done. I was really impressed by what they did.”

Despite the momentum swing after game one, the Minutewomen couldn’t close it out in game two. Even still, from the comeback in game one to Colleran’s brilliance to a score of stellar defensive moments, this team has plenty to be proud of.

Following Sunday’s games, several Minutewomen were honored in a post-game ceremony. Colleran, Cozza, and Denis were each named to the tournament’s All-Championship team, and Colleran took home the tournament’s highest award in the Most Outstanding Player trophy.

Going 1-1 on Sunday, UMass finished the season with a record of 29-24, the highest win total in five season under Stefanoni. Going 13-6 in conference play, the Minutewomen entered this weekend’s tournament as the No. 2 seed, and went 3-2 on the weekend.

The A-10 championship game is as far as any Stefanoni team has reached, and she has plenty to be proud of – with the season on the line, even down to their final out, her team never stopped fighting.

“I’m extremely proud of them,” Stefanoni said. “I am probably more proud as an alum than as a coach. I love the fact that I graduated from UMass and I got to play softball here and to see them be a part of what we’re trying to do here and trying to bring UMass softball back to greatness, to see them get back to the championship game, we finished the season with 29 wins, the highest since I’ve been head coach, that was awesome and that’s all to do with them. I don’t play the game, I just coach them.”

Likely returning all but two of its starters from today, the future is extremely bright for the UMass softball program.

“I’m just really proud as an alum,” Stefanoni said. “They’re doing a lot of great things for our program and they made a lot of people proud today, a lot of alums sent me text messages, they watched on TV or the internet, I really can’t say enough. As an alum of the program, to see where we were and then when my coach [Elaine Sortino] passed away, us falling off a bit and now where we’re headed, it’s pretty incredible.”

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

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