UMass softball clings to final tournament spot entering last week of season

By Jamie Cushman

(Jessica Chaiken/Daily Collegian)
(Jessica Chaiken/Daily Collegian)

Entering the last week of the regular season, the Massachusetts softball team sits in an unsafe position as the sixth and final spot that qualifies for the Atlantic 10 tournament.

After their final three nonconference games against Boston College and Connecticut Tuesday and Thursday, the Minutewomen (14-21, 8-9 Atlantic-10) enter a three-game weekend series against Saint Louis with the opportunity to lock up a spot.

UMass will look to pull off a sweep in the closing series, or otherwise will have to rely on help from other teams. The Billikens, who have already earned a berth in the conference tournament, will look to earn a bye as one of the top two seeds.

The Minutewomen currently hold a one-game lead over St. Bonaventure and a two-game lead over Saint Joseph’s for the final spot. UMass could make the postseason with just two wins, unless the Bonnies sweep the Hawks in their series.

Saint Louis will present a considerable threat for the Minutewomen, who are on a three-game losing streak. Strong on both offense and defense, the Billikens are ranked third in the A-10 in both batting average (.303) and ERA (3.37).

Saint Louis’ top hitter, sophomore Alex Nickel, ranks third in the conference in batting average, hitting .450 with 12 home runs and 29 RBIs. Freshman Allie Macfarlane has been strong in her first season with Saint Louis, leading the team in RBIs (44) and placing third with a .319 batting average.

Junior Brianna Lore has also contributed on both sides, batting .331 while being the Billikens’ most consistent pitcher. She’s tied for second in the conference with 17 wins and has posted a 2.58 ERA.

Picked to finish fourth in a preseason coaches poll, failing to reach the conference tournament may be deemed a disappointing season for UMass.

In her first season as interim head coach one year ago, Kristi Stefanoni guided her team to a fourth place finish in the regular season and the Minutemen won their first tournament game against Dayton before losing in the semifinals to top-seeded and eventual champion Fordham.

UMass is usually a mainstay in the conference tournament. The last time it failed to make the postseason was 2013.

With the tournament set to take place in Amherst, the Minutewomen hope to clinch a spot and earn another chance to play on Sortino Field.

UMass has a rich history of success in hosting A-10 tournaments. Of the eight championships played in Amherst, the Minutewomen have won six outright, with the only loss coming in 2005. The 1990 championship was split between UMass and Temple.

Jamie Cushman can be reached at [email protected]