Kyllie Magill, Minutewomen walk off with A-10 title

By Nick Canelas

In a season filled with mercy rules and lopsided victories, the Massachusetts softball team opted to save the theatrics for the Atlantic 10 tournament.

Just one day after Tiffany Meeks came through with a clutch, two-on, two-out single in the bottom sixth to score the only two runs in a 2-0 win over Fordham on Friday that sent the Minutewomen (38-11, 19-0 Atlantic 10) into the title game, Kyllie Magill’s walk-off home run in the bottom of the seventh inning lifted UMass to a 3-2 triumphover George Washington for its 23rd A-10 championship.

“Kyllie just came up and nailed the ball,” said UMass coach Elaine Sortino, who has coached the Minutewomen to all 23 of their conference titles in her illustrious 33-year career as head coach. “There was no doubt from the time she hit [the ball] that it was gone.”

After failing to win the conference tournament for the first time since 2004 last season, the Minutewomen capped off their ninth undefeated season in conference play on Saturday to bring the championship trophy back to where they believe it belongs.

“I think it’s great to bring the [A-10] championship back to Amherst again,” sai Sortino.

Atlantic 10 Pitcher of the Year Sara Plourde was strong as usual in the circle, allowing two runs on just one hit, while striking out 11 and walking only two.

Plourde had a no-hitter working into the seventh inning with the Minutewomen hanging on to a 2-0 lead, but saw it disappear with one swing of the bat by Victoria Valos.

After allowing Julie Orlandi to reach first after a wild pitch on a strikeout, pinch-runner Amanda Zakeri scored on Valos’ two-run shot down the left field line which erased UMass’ lead and Plourde’s no-hit bid in one motion, and set the scene for the dramatics.

“Just one bad pitch [by Plourde] and [GW] tied it up,” said Sortino. “Just one swing was all it took.”

Despite the benefits of having the top of the order come to the plate in the bottom of the seventh, it appeared as if the game would be heading into extra frames after Cyndil Matthew and Quianna Diaz-Patterson grounded out and lined out, respectively.

Magill quickly erased any hopes of an upset by the Colonials (25-30, 11-9 A-10), however, as her solo shot with two outs crowned the Minutewomen conference champions in walk-off fashion.

“[The walk-off] was just unbelievable,” said Sortino. “It was just ‘boom’ and all of a sudden there we were with a walk-off home run. It was complete euphoria.”

UMass appeared to be on its way to another convincing win early on the contest as the offense pushed a run across the plate in each of the first two innings, while Plourde was cruising along in the circle.

Matthew led things off in the first with a single, which was followed by a stolen base to put a runner in scoring position with no one out.

Lindsey Webster’s sacrifice fly was enough to score the speedy junior from third base after Magill reached on a throwing error and Plourde drew a walk to load the bases with one out.

The Minutewomen did the rest of their damage with two outs in the second inning when back-to-back singles by Christine Della Vecchia and Matthew set up Diaz-Patterson for an RBI single to extend the lead to 2-0.

UMass had runners in scoring position in each of the following two innings with an opportunity to break the game open, but GW pitcher Heidi Penna settled in and pitched her way out of a pair of tough situations to keep the Colonials in the game.

Despite the fact that GW stayed in the game until the end, Sortino believes the character of her team is what helped put them over the top.

“[Winning the close games] comes down to [pulling through] in the pressure situations,” said Sortino. “These moments are what we dream about and what we live for.

“It takes incredible mental fortitude,” Sortino continued. “Anybody can hit, anybody can pitch and anybody can catch a ball, but it’s players that can really zoom in and focus, and still be aggressive, yet still be calm that get it done in those situations.”

The Minutewomen will find out who their next opponent will be when the NCAA softball tournament Selection Show is aired Sunday at 10 p.m. on ESPNU.

Nick Canelas can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MDC_Canelas.