The Massachusetts softball team didn’t rise to the level of competition that head coach Kristi Stefanoni would have liked last weekend, when it dropped all five games it played at the Baylor Invitational.
“We played a little bit better toward the last two [games],” Stefanoni said. “We played much better defense. [We’ve] definitely started taking better approaches at the plate and [we’re] swinging the bat a lot better.”
Coming off another lackluster performance in Florida the week before, UMass (2-8) will look at this weekend’s travel and tournament in Mississippi as an opportunity to compete in games that it hopes will come with more positive results.
With just three tournaments remaining and conference play closing in, sophomore Kaitlyn Stavinoha expressed that the time for the Minutewomen to improve and prepare for the start of the regular season is now.
“Obviously it’s not going exactly as we planned so far with wins and losses,” Stavinoha said. “But, we’re doing the best we can to at least get some good experience in the preseason and get ready for Atlantic 10 play.”
The coaching staff is preaching a message of increased aggressiveness at practice this week.
“Just getting on the bases and going one base at a time isn’t going to cut it for us,” Stefanoni said. “We’re going to have to be more aggressive earlier on if we’re going to score some runs and win some games.”
At the Baylor Invitational, the team produced a total of just nine runs over five games. However, in the last game of the weekend against Saint Francis, Stavinoha provided a spark to UMass that it hopes will carry over into this weekend’s play.
In the top of the third, Stavinoha came up to the plate with the bases loaded following three consecutive singles and hit a grand slam over the fence in right field.
“It felt great honestly,” she said. “It was great how pumped up everybody got and I think it’s just a little glimpse of what we can do this season.”
But the Minutewomen’s bench wasn’t the only spot of excitement surrounding Stavinoha’s four runs batted in, which came in one swing. Her whole family, which resides in The Woodlands, Texas, was there to see her first collegiate home run.
With only five returning players on this season’s roster, UMass will look to its younger, more inexperienced players to carry some of the weight over the course of the long season.
In the circle, freshmen Candace Denis and Quinn Breidenbach will be crucial to assisting junior Meg Colleran in shouldering the load of pitches that comes with so many games.
Along with her first start with the Minutewomen last weekend, Denis pitched 18 innings over three appearances and gave up a total of seven earned runs while striking out 21.
“I know that on paper it doesn’t show that she she did very well in terms of wins and losses, but [Denis] was definitely a big bright spot in the tournament,” Stefanoni said.
In the 1.2 innings that Breidenbach appeared in relief Feb. 24th, the freshman gave up two runs in UMass’ 8-2 loss to SIU Edwardsville.
On Friday at the Bulldog Slamboree, the Minutewomen will take on Central Arkansas and Mississippi State, followed by Samford in the morning and bracket play on Saturday and Sunday.
Matching up with a team like Mississippi State, which plays in the Southeastern Conference, will be a good competitive test for the Minutewomen.
“We’re going to see some really good pitching,” Stavinoha said. “We need to make sure that we’re really there, playing to win and getting some good reps in before we open with the Bonnies on Mar. 25.”
Liam Flaherty can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Liam__Flaherty.