UMass softball hopes its star shortstop continues her torrid pace to start season

By Tom Mulherin

(Collegian file photo)
(Collegian file photo)

For the past three seasons, Quianna Diaz-Patterson has proven day-in and day-out that she is geared to succeed at the plate at the top of the lineup for the Massachusetts softball team.

So why would this year be any different?

Through the first two weekend tournaments to start off the season, Diaz-Patterson has been a pitcher’s nightmare with an active nine-game hit streak. In those nine games, she has a team-high 16 hits for a .533 batting average and has scored 11 runs – even more than typical Diaz-Patterson-like numbers.

“Obviously, her impact is huge,” UMass coach Kristi Stefanoni said. “(Diaz-Patterson) sets the tone for us offensively. I’d say overall, she is 10 times better than she was a year ago at this time even.”

As the leadoff batter, Diaz-Patterson has done what any leadoff hitter is expected to do – get on base. She has a .611 on-base percentage (OBP) and leads the team in runs scored. This year, however, ‘Q,’ as her teammates call her, is even going beyond her usual role by putting a little extra strength into her hits.

So far in the 2015 campaign, the contact hitter has tied the team-high in home runs (four) and has knocked in 10 RBIs for UMass (4-5). Over her first three years with the Minutewomen, Diaz-Patterson muscled just seven home runs – including no home runs last season and just seven RBIs. Recognizing the middle infielder’s role expansion, Stefanoni credited the extra power to her work in the offseason.

“Her ability to come up with runners in scoring position in pretty tough situations and make something happen has been big for us,” Stefanoni said. “She’s gotten a lot stronger. She spent all last summer on campus, and was able to be in a weight room and work with our strength and conditioning coach all the time.”

Stefanoni added that the senior’s time spent with the Connecticut Brakettes over the summer, a member of the Amateur Softball Association, has furthered her development.

“Her weight numbers have gone up and the way she runs has improved,” Stefanoni said. “She got a chance to play with the (Connecticut) Brakettes this summer, which is a semi-pro team, and they face some of the best competition around the country.

“Softball-wise, that helped her out a lot.”

As efficient as Diaz-Patterson has been for UMass in the batter’s box, she has impressed Stefanoni just as much in the field. Noting her previous inconsistencies with making plays at shortstop and second base, Stefanoni said she believes the veteran has finally solidified herself as a fielder.

“From a year ago today, (her fielding is) amazing,” Stefanoni said. “I’m probably jinxing her by saying this, but ‘Q’ only has one error so far this year.

Stefanoni added: “Typically, she hasn’t been all that consistent defensively. It’s something we’ve been working on throughout the fall and the winter with her, so she’s been extremely consistent defensively (this year).”

Outside of her production on the field, the hitting stalwart is making impacts on the team on personal levels. As one of the longest-tenured players on the team, Diaz-Patterson took it upon herself to be a leader and role model for the younger players this season, such as freshman middle infielder Gianna Hathaway.

As a senior, Stefanoni said that Diaz-Patterson recognizes that she can’t play for the program forever and has taken to mentoring Hathaway.

“(The two) have spent a lot of time together on and off the field, which is really important,” Stefanoni said. “Q has done that for a reason. She sees the talent that (Hathaway) has and knows it’s going to be Gianna later on. (She’s been) showing her how to work hard, how to do extra so it’s been good for her.”

Tom Mulherin can be reached at [email protected]