UMass softball hits the road for big test at Dayton

By Jamie Cushman

Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian
Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian

The Massachusetts softball team travels to Ohio this weekend for one of its biggest tests of the season in a three-game series against Dayton.

The Flyers (32-12, 15-2 Atlantic 10) sit at the top of the conference standings and have already clinched a spot in the conference tournament while the Minutewomen (14-21, 8-9 A-10) currently place sixth, momentarily lining them up for the final tournament spot.

“They’re a better Dayton team than they have been in the past,” UMass coach Kristi Stefanoni said. “I think we’re taking it the same way as we took St. Bonaventure, where we’re going to have to be close to perfect to get a sweep out of it, but I think that we can do it. It will be a tough series for us but I think it’s one where we’ll accept the challenge.”

The biggest test for the Minutewomen will come in the batter’s box. The Flyers boast the A-10’s best group of pitchers, with three currently in the conference’s top six in ERA. As a team, Dayton has posted a 2.23 ERA, more than a run per game better than the next best, Saint Louis.

The Flyers’ top starting pitcher is senior Kayla English, who leads the A-10 with a 1.48 ERA. Her 17 wins are tied for first in the conference and her 109 strikeouts are good for fourth. English has been especially effective in conference play, accruing an 0.63 ERA over 55.1 innings.

Dayton freshman Manda Cash has made most of her appearances in relief but has been equally dominant. Her 1.60 ERA is second behind English in the A-10. Cash has also struck out 112 batters despite pitching 25 fewer innings than English.

“We’ve been watching video all week on them,” Stefanoni said about preparing for the Flyers’ pitching staff. “So I feel confident that we’ll come up with a game plan that will help us to the best of our ability how we handle our offense, but I think that we have to find out what their weakness is and attack their weakness.”

The Minutewomen will once again need strong offensive performances from seniors Quianna-Diaz Patterson and Bridget Lemire in order to score runs against Dayton.

Diaz-Patterson has been UMass’ most consistent hitter and currently has the second-highest batting average in the nation at .525. Lemire has been at her best during conference play, batting .400 with a conference-high nine home runs.

Diaz-Patterson said she is confident the lineup can produce in the series.

“I think as a team, as long as we get in there knowing that we can hit whatever they pitch at us, then we’re going to be fine,” Diaz-Patterson said. “We’re going to be able to put some balls in the outfield and score some runs. As long as everyone stays confident and doesn’t think, we’ll be alright.”

With just six conference games remaining on the Minutewomen’s schedule, this weekend’s series at Dayton and next weekend’s set against St. Louis will prove extremely important for UMass, who hopes to secure a spot in the playoffs.

“It’s crucial, the next six games are absolutely crucial,” Stefanoni said. “We just need to focus on what we need to do as a team, not worry about leaving it up to everyone else in the conference and we just need to focus on winning. But they are very big games for us.”

Jamie Cushman can be reached at [email protected]