Sortino, UMass face another tough weekend schedule

By Ryan Fleming, Collegian Staff

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This weekend brings another tournament and another trip into the southern hemisphere for the No. 17 Massachusetts softball team.

Last weekend the Minutewomen (6-4) traveled to Cathedral City, Calif. for the Cathedral City Classic. UMass, much like last weekend, is going to take on some of the best teams in the country in the NFCA Leadoff Classic in Columbus, Ga.

‘I think [this weekend] we’re going to have five teams that are really going to come at us offensively,’ UMass coach Elaine Sortino said. ‘All five schools have great [pitching] staff earned-run averages, so we’re going to see good pitching. We just have to do what we’ve been doing and hopefully we’ll get better.’

The Minutewomen will take on Nebraska (6-3) on Friday in the first game of the tournament. The Cornhuskers boast a solid offensive team that begins with Heidi Foland. Foland leads Nebraska with three home runs and 11 runs batted in. Despite her relatively low batting average (.280) compared to the rest of her team, she ranks among the leaders on the team in runs scored and hits.

UMass will take on No. 15 Georgia (15-1) in the second part of the day’s doubleheader. Since it will be the Bulldogs’ first game of the day, the Minutewomen will likely face UGA’s ace, Christie Hamilton. So far this season Hamilton has dominated her opposition, posting a 5-0 record with a 0.43 ERA.

And for whatever reason the Mintutewomen don’t face Hamilton, they get to face Georgia’s No. 2 pitcher, Sarah McCloud, who has also pitched for the Bulldogs extremely efficiently. McCloud’s posted a 5-1 record and 1.50 ERA.

Saturday, starting at 4 p.m., UMass starts its day against Mississippi State. MSU comes into the tournament riding an eight-game win streak. In this past week’s poll the Bulldogs received votes to enter the EPSN/USA Today Softball Collegiate Top 25 poll after going 5-0 in the Bulldog Classic last week in Mississippi.

Against teams like MSU, who are fast on the basepaths, Sortino knows that the UMass pitchers can’t afford to give up many hits.

‘That’s something we’re going to need to be ready for,’ said Sortino, regarding MSU’s stealing threat in Chelsea Bramlett. ‘They just like to steal.’

UMass takes on No. 22 Southern Illinois (11-0) and No. 3 Alabama (12-1) Saturday at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday at 10 a.m., respectively.

In perhaps UMass’ biggest game of the season the Minutewomen will take on a Crimson Tide team that recently went 4-1 in the Cathedral City Classic, the tournament UMass played in last weekend.

The strength of Alabama is its ability to spread its offense. The Crimson Tide has four players that have 10 RBIs or more and four starters hitting better than .400.

Ryan Fleming can be reached at [email protected].