UMass softball opens season with three losses in Charlotte First Pitch Classic

By Zander Manning

Collegian File Photo)
(Collegian File Photo)

In the first of five non-conference tournaments to open up the year, the Massachusetts softball team flew down to Charlotte, North Carolina for the Charlotte First Pitch Classic this past weekend in what marked the beginning of the 2016 season.

On Sunday UMass took part in a back-and forth-affair in its first ever meeting against Youngstown State in the last leg of the tournament, ending in a 9-8 loss.

The Penguins jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the second inning, but the Minutewomen rallied back and eventually tied the game at 6-6 in the top of the sixth inning.

But Youngstown State struck for three more runs in the bottom of the inning to take a 9-6 lead it wouldn’t give up. UMass scored two runs in the top of the seventh to get within one, but couldn’t complete the rally as the Youngstown State completed the sweep of the Minutewomen in the tournament.

“We struggled to finish,” said Taylor Carbone, who pitched five innings on the mound. “We started out strong, we just couldn’t shut the door.”

Carbone allowed five runs on eight hits in her first collegiate start.

In the second game of a Saturday doubleheader preceding Sunday’s loss, UMass played host to Toledo in the tournament. This time it was the Minutewomen that came out firing, scoring four runs in the third frame to open a 4-1 lead.

However, Toledo scored a pair of runs to pull within one in the fourth and then struck for two more in the top of the seventh to secure a 5-4 win.

In the first game Saturday, the Minutewomen faced host school UNC Charlotte and lost 7-1. The 49ers got going early, scoring six runs in the first two innings to take control of the game. UMass only mustered one run, which came in the second inning of the game on a passed ball that allowed third baseman Ashton Wince to score.

“In the first game, there were a lot of nerves and we didn’t play well,” Carbone said.

It was a rough game at the plate for UMass, as it only recorded four hits off of Charlotte starter Lexi Betancourt, who allowed no earned runs in the win.

“We had poor defense, we didn’t hit the ball well and had poor pitching,” UMass coach Kristi Stefanoni said when asked about the weekend games. “There were some bright spots… we had an out at home from the outfield, some good defense, it wasn’t all bad.”

A look ahead

The Minutewomen will participate in four more tournaments down south in North Carolina, Mississippi, Florida and Maryland before starting A-10 play on Mar. 25.

The Minutewomen will fly back to North Carolina for a five-game set in the East Carolina Uuniversity Pirate Clash in Greenville from Feb. 19-21. They’ll play three games against Saint Francis (PA) with additional individual matchups against East Carolina and Bucknell.

To UMass rookie infielder Kaitlyn Stavinoha, who batted 4-of-10 from the plate last weekend, the season-opening tournaments are exciting for her first taste of collegiate softball.

“This is probably one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done,” Stavinoha said. “It’s really a dream come true. This is a good team, with good chemistry and I’m excited.”

While most would consider these tournaments just preparation for the Atlantic 10 season, Carbone recognizes the importance of finding success in these early tournaments.

“It isn’t just prep,” Carbone said. “It shows you what you need to improve on, shows us how to prepare to win.”

Stefanoni agreed and said she sees them as a way to boost UMass’ confidence.

“We’ll be facing some good teams, good pitching and facing some good competition, Ole Miss being the biggest as an SEC opponent… It’ll raise our confidence,” Stefanoni said.

The Minutewomen will play in the Red and Blue Classic in Oxford, Mississippi from Mar. 4-6 where they will face off against Belmont twice, Pennsylvania State twice and once against Ole Miss.

After that it’s the Florida Atlantic University Parents’ Weekend Tournament in Boca Raton, Florida from Mar. 11-13. The final tournament before conference play starts will be the Maryland Invitational in College Park, where UMass will play another five games.

After a disappointing season last year, Stefanoni is just looking for some teamwork and toughness in 2016.

“(I want us to) come together, win together and at the very least compete,” Stefanoni said. “I want them to be completely mentally and physically exhausted after every game so they know that they’ve done everything they can to compete. It’s a matter of coming together and sticking together, whether we win or lose.”

Zander Manning can be reached at [email protected]