Bats coming alive, defense improving for Minutewomen

By Michael Wood

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It’s no secret that the Massachusetts softball team has had their struggles at the plate this season. The offense isn’t nearly as productive or as explosive as last year’s squad, and after getting off to a slow start, it looked as if UMass head into trouble scoring runs this season.

However, the UMass bats have come around as of late, and several players who were expected to carry the offense have begun to produce.

First baseman Audrey Boutin leads all Minutewomen at the plate, batting .321 with three doubles, two home runs and 10 runs batted in. Behind her is junior Kyllie Magill with six doubles, 14 RBIs and 38 total bases, the team-leader in each of those categories.

Freshman Lindsey Webster, who was recruited to pitch behind Sara Plourde, is third on the team in batting, hitting .289 and leading the team in home runs (3) and slugging percentage (.556).

Although they may have started slow, the Minutewomen have turned on their offense as of late, and combined with All-American pitching and a solid defense, the team feels better about their chances down the stretch of reaching the postseason.

Ace in the hole

Plourde struck out 556 batters last season and won 40 games – the highest totals in the country in both categories. This year she struggled out-of-the-gate, but she’s found her stride lately and is on her way back to becoming the dominant force she was a year ago.

At the halfway point in the season, Plourde has sent 255 batters back to the dugout scratching their heads, which puts her on pace for about 510 strikeouts by the end of the year. That would be just shy of her total last season.

Plourde relishes the opportunity for a challenge and likes the feeling of accomplishment whenever she defeats a high-caliber team.

“To be quite honest, I love [having a target on our backs],” said Plourde in an interview earlier last week. “I love playing hard teams, and I love when they’re coming at us. It’s not easy. I don’t want to know that I’m going to win all the time; I like a challenge.”

Senior Meghan Carta has been catching Plourde for three seasons and has firsthand experience what the hurler can do to opponents’ lineups.

“When she’s on, it’s great,” said Carta. “When she’s on, I get to see how these girls swinging and missing by [a lot], and I think it’s awesome. I wish I had another year left [to catch her].”

What also benefits the Maroon and White has been the play of its second and third pitchers, Caroline Raymond and Webster.

Raymond is 2-1 with an earned run average of just over 3.5 and took a no-hitter into the sixth inning of UMass’s second game against Dartmouth. Webster hasn’t notched a victory yet through four appearances, but she’s struck out 22 batters in just 20 innings. Regardless of who the Minutewomen look to on the mound, their pitchers have given them a good chance to win games as of late.

Improved defense

During UMass’ eight-game losing streak at the end of February the team committed nine errors.

Now, the team seems to have figured itself out and learned how to correct its mistakes. The Minutewomen have made six errors in the last five games, but four of those came in their only defeat, a 5-2 loss to Saint Joseph’s. Without that game, UMass has recorded just two errors in that same five-game span..

Michael Wood can be reached at [email protected]