Salato, Normandin having special seasons

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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If you look at the record books, former Massachusetts softball star pitcher Danielle Henderson and current ace Brandice Balschmiter have quite the rivalry going.

Score one for the latter’s side after Tuesday night’s record-breaking performance from Balschmiter.

The senior right-hander passed Henderson, a player she grew up admiring, for first-place on the all-time wins list at UMass with a shutout victory over Providence at the UMass Softball Complex. Her 109th career victory was done with flair, as Balschmiter tossed her eighth career no-hitter in the 8-0, six-inning victory.

Balschmiter has additional bragging rights: she accomplished the feat despite three fewer appearances (158) and nine fewer innings (955-2/3) than Henderson did in her run of dominance from 1996-1999.

‘I’ve known Danielle since I was 11-years-old watching her play,’ Balschmiter said earlier this season. ‘I grew up working with her and learning to pitch with her.’

Henderson taught her well, but her pupil would have to play another season entirely to approach her school strikeout record of 1,343 ‘- which ranks 13th in NCAA history. Balschmiter, who had six Tuesday night, became the second pitcher at UMass to reach the 1,000 mark on April 2, 2009. She currently stands at 1,036.

Currently, Balschmiter ranks second to Henderson in strikeouts, appearances, innings pitched, complete games (131-121), shutouts (72-58), no-hitters (14-8) and perfect games (3-2). Her career earned-run average of 1.02 ranks third in school history behind Lynn Stockley (0.81) and Henderson‘s 0.70.

Pitching mentor

Just as Henderson provided a mentor and someone to look up to on the mound for Balschmiter, the current star has helped do the same for freshman hurler Sarah Plourde and junior pitcher Bailey Sanders.

‘[Balschmiter] gives them something to look for and to aspire to,’ said UMass coach Elaine Sortino of her young pitchers after Tuesday’s game. ‘The thing is, they’re a good pitching staff, and they really help each other. They work together all the time; they are very, very supportive of one another.’

Plourde has had a lot of success on the mound early in her career. In six career starts ‘- all wins ‘- the rookie pitcher has 65 strikeouts to go along with a 1.12 ERA in 43-2/3 innings of work this season. She has been unhittable at times, allowing just 19 hits, as opponents are hitting .132 against her.

Sanders is 22-11 with a 2.22 ERA in her career.

Grand Salato

Senior left fielder Samantha Salato hit two home runs and drove in four runs in Tuesday’s win over Providence ‘- including a three-run blast that cleared the left field fence ‘- which is 190 feet away ‘- by at least 40 feet in the third inning. She leads the team this season with nine home runs and 31 RBIs.

‘I’ve been waiting for her to break out with a game like today for a couple weeks,’ Sortino said of Salato, who has already surpassed last season’s total of seven home runs and needs just one more RBI to reach last year’s 32. ‘She’s been hitting the ball very, very well. It was just a matter of time. We weren’t surprised.’

Hit parade

Junior leadoff hitter Carly Normandin went 1-for-4 in the victory, extending her hitting streak to 16 games with a run-scoring single in the fourth inning.

A .305 career hitter entering this season, the captain and spark plug atop the batting order is hitting at a team-leading clip of .417. She also leads the Minutewomen in a variety of categories, including: runs scored (26), stolen bases (10), doubles (9), total bases (71), on-base percentage (.455) and slugging percentage (.689).

‘She’s a fabulous player,’ Sortino said. ‘I was watching game film from the fall and she’s really bought in and changed in a big way at the plate. I didn’t even recognize her, I was like, ‘Who is that? My god, it’s Norm.”

Eli Rosenswaike can be reached at [email protected]