Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Minutewomen aim for 21st A-10 Title

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Despite losing twice in conference play this season ‘- after winning 49 consecutive Atlantic 10 games ‘- the Massachusetts softball team has once again claimed the A-10 regular season title and a No. 1 seed in the upcoming Atlantic 10 Softball Championship.

The No. 1 seed gives UMass (35-8, 16-2 A-10) a first-round bye as they campaign for their 21st conference title when the A-10 Tournament commences on Wednesday, May 6 at Bahoshy Field at Fordham University in Bronx, N.Y.

With an automatic bid for the NCAA tournament on the line, the No. 19 and four-time defending A-10 Champions Minutewomen, will not be found looking beyond this weekend’s challenge.

‘We never look past it. Are you kidding? It is the doorway to where we want to go,’ UMass coach Elaine Sortino said. ‘We can’t go to the NCAA tournament if we don’t become the automatic qualifier.’

The double-elimination tournament features the top six teams in the A-10 standings with Charlotte, last year’s runner-up, taking the No. 2 seed and the other first-round bye. St. Louis finished third in the standings and will take on sixth-seeded St. Bonaventure Wednesday at 3 p.m. Beginning the tournament at 1 p.m. on Wednesday will be No. 4 Fordham and No. 5 Saint Joseph’s.

The Rams (36-20, 13-7 A-10) are coming off one of their biggest wins of the year as they finished off the regular season by upsetting UMass, 5-4, for their first-ever win in Amherst. The win was Fordham’s second win over a ranked opponent on the year, the other coming against then-No.14 Fresno State when they pulled off the 5-2 victory back in February.

Against St. Joe’s (23-18, 9-7 A-10), Fordham faired well this season taking both games back at the beginning of April. The Rams took Game 1 of a doubleheader 8-6 before knocking off the Hawks 6-2 in Game 2.

The winner of the two will face UMass at 1 p.m. on Thursday, and the loser will move to the loser’s bracket to play an elimination game at 5 p.m. on Wednesday.

The second game on Wednesday will feature No. 3 St. Louis and No. 6 St. Bonaventure. The Billikens (31-21, 12-6 A-10) are heading into the tournament on a low note as they lost their final four regular season games and five of their last six. St. Louis took both games against the Bonnies earlier in the season.

St. Bonaventure (12-26, 9-11 A-10) is instead riding into the Bronx on a high note after a thrilling 4-3, 12-inning victory over Temple on Sunday with the No. 6 seed and a berth into the A-10 Tournament on the line.

The winner will move on to play Charlotte on Thursday at 3 p.m., and the loser will play another game immediately after the conclusion of the game against the loser of the St. Joe’s and Fordham game.

UMass’s first opponent of the tournament may be undetermined, but to Sortino, it makes no difference who the Minutewomen will play.

‘Everybody is going to be tough. Everybody is going to play us tough. They did earlier in the year, and they are going to now,’ Sortino said. ‘There are no weak sisters in this tournament.’

The Minutewomen are coming off a loss to Fordham ‘- a possible opponent on Thursday ‘- in the final game of the regular season, and it makes the best team in the conference even hungrier.

‘It makes us very hungry. With or without that loss, we’re starving,’ Sortino said. ‘We’re very, very focused on what we have to do.’

And what UMass has to do, according to Sortino, is to have everyone play well. The team is not relying on one player to carry the Minutewomen through the tournament, but instead a solid team performance.

‘I think the best part about this year’s team is that they have been consistent and reliable,’ Sortino said. ‘One person hasn’t had to do something extraordinary. Everyone has to be good, and if everyone is good, we’re great.’

The Minutewomen may have goals that extend past this weekend’s tournament, but they understand that without a good showing this weekend, there is nothing past this weekend.

‘Our goal is our conference title. That is our goal,’ Sortino said before leaving Tuesday for the tournament. ‘We’ve worked very, very hard to position ourselves to get to the conference championship. That is always our goal, and now it is to win it.’

Jeffrey R. Larnard can be reached at [email protected]

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