Raymond pitches Minutewomen past George Mason Sunday to salvage series

By Tom Mulherin

(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)
(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts softball team’s bats came alive Sunday in a 9-2 victory over George Mason in the finale of its first series in Atlantic 10 play this season.

Sunday’s win came a day after the Minutewomen (5-12, 1-2 A-10) lost their first two games of the weekend set in Charleston, South Carolina. Pitcher Caroline Raymond redeemed herself with a bounce-back performance after dealing with location issues in Friday’s opening matchup. Raymond two unearned runs on two hits, striking out four in a complete-game effort.

UMass coach Kristi Stefanoni said Raymond’s improved outing helped set the team up for its first win in a month – the Minutewomen entered on an eight-game losing streak.

“It was a huge, huge change (from previous performances),” Stefanoni said. “As a whole, we are putting way too much pressure on ourselves. (There is) the pressure to qualify for a conference tournament and the pressure to bring the tradition and legacy back that was here a couple years ago. That’s way too much pressure to have, they’re good just the way they are.”

Bridget Lemire and Tara Klee backed up Raymond’s pitching performance with seven combined RBIs. Lemire finished 2-for-4 with a three-run home run in the first inning to give UMass a quick 3-0 lead.

Klee added a pinch-hit grand slam in her only at bat in the sixth inning where the Minutewomen broke open the game with six insurance runs.

According to Stefanoni, Sunday’s win was important in boosting UMass’ confidence as it prepares for eight conference games in its next 10 matchups. The Minutewomen prevented their first nine-game losing streak since 2013.

“The win was huge,” Stefanoni said. “It’s good momentum for the week of practice going into Saint Joseph’s. We wouldn’t have set ourselves up nicely if we had gone 0-3 in the first weekend (of conference play). We were able to get out a win, and that’s big in many different ways.”

Minutewomen drop first two games

The weekend didn’t start as well for UMass as it did in Sunday’s balanced display, as the Minutewomen’s bats fell cold in two losses to the Patriots in a Saturday double-header.

UMass was stifled by George Mason’s pitching, 5-0 and 7-1, respectively. Despite the lack of offensive firepower – the Minutewomen left nine runners on base in the first game and managed just one hit in the second – Stefanoni said the losses were a result of poor pitch location and even poorer defensive play behind the mound.

“There were too many walks and too many missed plays on defense,” Stefanoni said. “It’s been a work in progress since the season started. It took (Raymond) some time to settle in and our defense, when we needed to play behind her, we didn’t.”

With just one earned run on two hits, Raymond’s performance has been overshadowed by seven walks allowed over six innings in the opening loss. These baserunners proved costly as two UMass errors led to four unearned runs.

In Saturday’s second game, the Minutewomen jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the third frame on a sac fly after Anna Kelley opened with a double.

But Kelley’s drive proved to be the lone hit and only one of two baserunners for UMass, who struggled against pitcher Christina Gabriele. Gabriele threw a complete game and finished with two strikeouts in the Patriots’ victory.

“Anything that could have gone wrong went wrong,” Stefanoni said. “Playing together as a unit (was a struggle the team faced), there wasn’t really a lot of communication. As a team we got quiet, and obviously we don’t play well like that.”

The Minutewomen return to A-10 action in a three-game set against Saint Joseph’s this Friday and Saturday.

Tom Mulherin can be reached at [email protected][liveblog]