Minutewomen enter tough weekend schedule

By Tom Mulherin

(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)
(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

After showing how much they’ve improved in their first two weekend sets, the Massachusetts softball team will be put to the test as they head into a difficult schedule at the Louisville Classic beginning Friday.

In their third straight weekend series, the Minutewomen (4-5) will have their first look at teams from some big-name conferences in college sports, as they face off against representatives of the Big Ten (Northwestern), the Atlantic Coast Conference (Louisville) and the Mid-American Conference (Ball State). With all of the competition looming for UMass, coach, Kristi Stefanoni, didn’t say which one she was looking forward to the most, but said she is excited for the team to get experience.

“Honestly, I’d go for all of (the games),” she said when asked about which game is the one to watch. “I think there is great competition we are going to see this weekend. I’m really excited to play the teams; there isn’t really one particular game I would pick.”

Through the nine games the Minutewomen have already played this season, the offense exceeded expectations, as veteran infielder Quianna Diaz-Patterson has been a force at the plate, earning Atlantic-10 Player of the Week honors.

Although offense has not been an issue, UMass has been inconsistent on the mound. So far this year, the pitching rotation has had issues with control, allowing 38 walks compared to just 36 strikeouts in 59 innings.

The habit of putting runners on base – along with several errors defensively – has left Stefanoni pushing for large improvements by starting with the basics.

“We worked on a lot of fundamental things (in preparation for the weekend),” Stefanoni said. “We came out (this season) and didn’t play very good defense I thought, and our pitchers struggled a bit with walks and trying to hit their spots. We kind of went back to fundamentals, knowing that we had plenty of time to do that.

“(We worked on) all sorts of different things – some glove work, some footwork, pitchers throwing to different zones,” she continued. “As we got closer to game time, we opened it up and worked on team defensive things. We took it into different stages.”

So far this season, only three players have seen time on the mound for the Minutewomen – Caroline Raymond, Meg Colleran and Emma Mendoker – which makes it easier for certain trends to continue, good or bad. As a result, Stefanoni said it’s possible for the team to see former pitcher turned star hitter Tara Klee get some action on the hill.

“It’s very possible (for Klee to get a chance to pitch),” she said. “Klee is actually throwing to batters (Wednesday) at practice. That will probably be a good indication of whether or not she gets out there this weekend. It’ll be good to give us a chance to get another look in there from the mound instead of Caroline and Meg being the main (pitchers).”

Stefanoni said it was important for the team to elevate their performance all around as they head into the weekend.

“We’re going to be seeing teams with much better batting averages than we have in the past,” she said. “Playing really good defense is going to be a key for us. We also don’t really have a strikeout pitching staff, which is fine, but getting ahead early in the count and cutting down on the walks is going to help us out big time.”

First pitch Friday morning against Illinois State is set for 10:30 a.m.

Tom Mulherin can be reached at [email protected]