Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass softball riding five-game win streak into first Atlantic 10 showdown

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After enduring five road trips and 22 games already, the Massachusetts softball team is ready to play its first Atlantic 10 conference games Saturday when the Minutewomen take on St. Bonaventure in a double-header at Sortino Field.

In 2016, UMass (8-14) took two out of three from the Bonnies (7-16) on the road. The Minutewomen took the first matchup 6-1, fell in the second game 5-2 and squeaked past SBU in the final game 5-4 in nine innings.

“I hope we’re taking three out of three from St. Bonaventure this year,” UMass coach Kristi Stefanoni said. “They’re a team that if you fall asleep on them, they can jump on you quickly and they’re hard to come back against. So we need to make sure we’re on point all the time, that we don’t fall asleep on a team like that. I hope that it’s very different.”

Coming into this weekend, Stefanoni said that she expects to start junior Megan Colleran in the circle on for the first game of the double-header Saturday, while in the second game she will start freshman Candace Denis.

While Stefanoni sees Colleran as the ace of the staff and expects her to go all seven innings, she also said that if Colleran struggles, she will look to freshman Quinn Breidenbach, who has gotten most of the chances in relief this season.

Stefanoni wouldn’t comment on the lineup for the weekend series, but said that lineups during the last few tournaments would give a good indication of what it should look like.

Colleran views this first set of games against the Bonnies as a good introduction into A-10 play, especially with the Minutewomen playing so well recently.

“Just [go] in with confidence and know that we’re opening up against [the] Bonnies, it’ll be a good matchup for us to test out A-10 play and to just play the way we know how, play as a group and I think we’ll be fine,” Colleran said.

Denis feels especially prepared to start conference play after all of her work with pitching coach Chelsea Plimpton, whom she has worked very closely with in bullpen sessions. There they have competitions ranging from pushup contests to strike zone “HORSE,” where they try to hit the same spot in the zone as many times as possible.

“It’s been a long road here,” Denis said. “I wouldn’t be the number two pitcher without Chelsea. She definitely brought me a long way, I can’t thank her enough.”

Denis has not only been the number-two pitcher for Stefanoni and her staff, but she has also moved up in the lineup from the number seven spot to hitting second behind sophomore centerfielder Erin Stacevicz.

“That was my goal coming into the season,” Denis added. “The coaches had us all write down our goal and mine was to find a way into the top of the lineup, so to accomplish that goal it feels really nice. My main focus is to get on base and steal a lot of bases and let our power hitters do the rest of the work… For me it feels really good to be able to do that for myself.”

The forecast in Amherst calls for afternoon rain showers according to Weather.com, but as of today, the Minutewomen play Saturday at noon and 2 p.m. and Sunday at noon. Stefanoni, however, has a message for Minutewomen fans.

“If there’s no snow, come out and watch,” she said. “They’re a fun team!”

Zander Manning can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @ZMSportsReport.

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