Free passes proving costly for UMass softball

By Jesse Mayfield Sheehan

Cade Belisle/Collegian

Instead of one, two, three strikes you’re out for the Massachusetts softball team’s pitchers, more often it’s been one, two, three, four balls and you get a walk.

The Minutewomen’s (15-22, 9-7 Atlantic 10) pitching staff has given up a conference-leading 192 free passes so far this season, while only striking out 98, for a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 0.51. On the offensive side, the team has walked 99 times this season, which is third least in the conference.

Sunday’s doubleheader against Temple (26-22, 13-5 A-10) was no different. UMass pitchers gave up a combined 16 walks and struck out just two, while the offense only earned a single walk through the two contests.

Minutewoman coach Elaine Sortino said one of the factors that may have contributed to the high amount of walks was the fear of giving up a home run, as the Owls hit a combined 11 home runs in their doubleheader sweep.

“[The pitchers were] clearly trying to keep the ball off the plate, the umpire had a very, very small [strike] zone,” Sortino said. “I think the works that came out yesterday were trying to avoid bringing the ball up to try to keep them from getting that big hit.”

Offensively, the Minutewomen have been productive, with a .286 team batting average, good for fourth in the conference, while opponents are only hitting .282 against them. However, when walks are factored in, opposing teams have a .409 on-base percentage compared to UMass’ .364, which has likely been a factor in teams outscoring the Minutewomen 250-177 this season.

Trying to limit the amount of walks given up has been something Sortino has stressed throughout the season. She said the team continues to work on improving its pitching and fixing these types of issues, and hopes to see improvement before the end of the season.

“We’re throwing the pitchers that we’ve been throwing, trying to make them better, and trying to be able to adjust to an umpire’s strike zone,” she said.

Sortino said she hopes the amount of free passes will not be an issue when the team travels to Kingston, R.I., for a doubleheader against Rhode Island on Tuesday.

Fortunately for UMass, the Rams (9-32, 2-13 A-10) are not the best team when it comes to getting on base, having walked only 94 times this season, which is second least in the conference.

Currently, the Minutewomen stand at sixth place in the Atlantic 10 standings, with a one-and-a-half-game lead over Dayton (20-22, 10-9 A-10) for the final spot in the conference tournament with six conference games left to play. The first game against URI is set to start at 3 p.m.

Jesse Mayfield-Sheehan can be reached at [email protected] and can be followed on Twitter @jgms88.