Following a disappointing winless showing at the Cathedral City Classic last weekend in California, the Massachusetts softball team will try and reverse its fortunes this weekend when it travels to Woodstock, Ga. to play a five-game slate at the Buzz City Classic.
At 2-8, the Minutewomen are not only off to their worst start since 2008, when they began 4-6, but are also just a pair of defeats shy of matching last season’s loss total.
The underwhelming performance to start the season may be excused by some, due in large part to the fact that the team faced four nationally-ranked opponents last weekend. However, aside from a 9-2 drubbing given by then-No.7 Washington, UMass was well within reach of victory in each of the other games.
To their advantage, the Minutewomen won’t see any ranked opponents this weekend, and will also reacquaint themselves against some familiar foes.
UMass will square off with Penn State for the second time this season, and if the previous meeting is a benchmark for the team’s potential, then this game may serve as a revival of the Minutewomen offense.
Behind junior Katie Bettencourt’s grand slam in the sixth inning, the Minutewomen defeated the Nittany Lions handily on Feb. 18, shutting them out 10-0, and showing just how potent the offense can be.
However, after its meeting with PSU, the UMass offense sputtered, scoring a total of 15 runs in nine games, including being shut-out four times.
In order for the offense to rebound, the Minutewomen will look to junior Kyllie Magill to be a sparkplug. The Pawtucket, R.I. native leads the team in batting average (.323) and total bases (15) to go along with one home run and four RBIs, and has been the lone consistent producer at the place through the first 10 games.
Bettencourt will be looking for her first hit since the opening weekend of the season. The 2010 Atlantic 10 Co-Player of the Year went 0-for-13 in five games last weekend, but will likely get back on track against the Nittany Lions, who she dominated with a 2-for-3 performance and the aforementioned grand slam.
Waiting for UMass following its matchup with the Nittany Lions will be Alabama-Birmingham in the second game of the doubleheader on Friday afternoon.
The Blazers (10-6) are led by junior Kayla Orr, who leads the team in batting average (.375), home runs (2), RBIs (12) and total bases (28) through 16 games.
After their meeting with UAB, the Minutewomen will return to the field on Saturday morning to face off with UNC Greensboro.
UMass will likely go up against starting pitcher Cory Mattson, who posts a record of 3-5 and 5.03 ERA in nine starts for the Spartans (7-8). At the plate, the UAB offense relies on shortstop Kaitlin Merkt for the bulk of its production. The redshirt senior boasts a.419 batting average along with two home runs and 12 RBIs in 15 games.
In the second game of the doubleheader on Saturday, the Minutewomen will go up against Kennesaw State.
Sharon Swanson will more than likely carry the load on offense for the Owls. In 15 games thus far, she has produced six home runs, 27 RBIs and a .468 batting average that all the lead the team by a large margin.
UMass will cap the weekend on Sunday afternoon when it will take on Georgia Tech, and of all the teams that the Minutewomen will play this weekend, the Yellow Jackets (8-4) will pose the toughest pitching matchup.
Senior Kristen Adkins (0.94 ERA) and sophomore Hope Rush (1.77 ERA) lead the staff with a combined 7-4 record in 11 starts.
Offensively, junior Kelsi Weseman leads the team in home runs (3), RBIs (10) and 28 total bases with a .361 batting average.
The first pitch of the weekend will take place at 11 a.m. on Friday against PSU at the Twin Creeks Softball Complex.
Stephen Hewitt can be reached at [email protected]