Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass softball anxiously awaits start of conference play with doubleheader against BU looming Thursday.

(Collegian File Photo)

The Massachusetts softball team has had to wait much longer than what was originally anticipated before kicking off the 2017 Atlantic 10 portion of its schedule, as its first two match-ups were cancelled due to inclement weather.

Coming off a grueling, 22-game non-conference schedule over the course of February and March, the Minutewomen (8-14) were ready to kick off their first A-10 competition at home with three games against St. Bonaventure over the past weekend.

According to UMass coach Kristi Stefanoni, the team, which was set to begin A-10 play on the coattails of a five-game win streak, was extremely disappointed when the news of the cancellations came in.

“We’ve been talking about that day since our season basically started,” Stefanoni said. “To leave the first weekend and already be out three games was a huge bummer for us.”

With their eyes fixed on getting conference play started on the right foot, the Minutewomen got back to work over the weekend, preparing to take on Boston University in an away doubleheader on Tuesday.

“We were able to work on a good amount of skill stuff,” Stefanoni said. “We scrimmaged each other on Saturday and were able to hit live against our pitchers.”

But just as its match-up the weekend before, UMass will again have to wait even longer for the start of softball in Massachusetts as both games against the Terriers (8-18, 0-3 Patriot League) were cancelled stemming from the unfit playing conditions outdoors.

In the recent games that the Minutewomen have actually been lucky enough to compete in, freshman right-hander Candace Denis has performed tremendously in all aspects.

Pitching in her first stint with the team, out of conference and in far-away states like California, Mississippi and Texas, Denis has emerged as one of the top pitchers in all of the A-10.

In the circle, she currently ranks No. 2 in the league, pitching a total of 72.0 innings with nine complete game efforts and boasts a 1.75 earned run average.

After last year’s rotation saw a lack of depth with junior Meg Colleran throwing nearly all of the team’s important innings, Denis’ presence will help mix things up for UMass and change what other teams in the conference are used to seeing from them in the circle.

Colleran, who has pitched a total of 54.1 innings on the season and garnered a 4.64 ERA thus far, praised the freshman’s hot start.

“I can’t wait to see what she does the rest of the season,” Colleran said. “You look at her stats so far and she’s the best pitcher in the A-10, which I do not expect to change at all throughout the rest of the season.”

Denis has struck out a total of 62 batters so far on the season.

Besides her major impact in the circle, Denis has also found consistent success at the plate.

Through 22 games, the freshman is batting .292 at the dish with 21 hits, 18 runs scored and a total of seven runs batted in.

In a remarkable statistic, she is 16-for-17 in stolen base attempts and has become a major component of the Minutewomen’s recent effort to play increasingly aggressive softball.

“She’s one of the strongest, most conditioned players on this team and in the conference,” Colleran said. “She’s 100 percent prepared to make it through the rest of the season.”

Thursday’s doubleheader with the Terriers is set for 2 p.m. at BU Softball Field, with the second half taking place following the conclusion of game one.

Liam Flaherty can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Liam__Flaherty.

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