Strong pitching helps UMass softball to doubleheader sweep over La Salle

Colleran, Oliver strong Saturday


UMass RHP, Kiara Oliver, during a game against La Salle, Saturday, March 24, 2018 at Sortino Field, Amherst.

By Amin Touri, Assistant Sports Editor

The Massachusetts softball team came into the weekend expecting to get strong performances from its one-two punch at the top of the rotation, and strong performances it got.

Saturday was opening day in the Atlantic 10, and senior Meg Colleran and freshman Kiara Oliver allowed just three hits in 10 combined innings of work to help the Minutewomen (13-10, 2-0 A-10) to a doubleheader sweep against La Salle (7-14, 0-2 A-10).

Colleran, an All-Conference First Team selection a year ago, was characteristically unhittable on Saturday, allowing just one hit in five innings of shutout ball to propel UMass to a dominant 7-0 win to start the day.

“Definitely, I felt pretty good today,” Colleran said. “I felt like I was throwing pretty well and we were able to work against their offense, and the defense was playing really well behind me.”

Colleran retired the first 10 batters she faced, allowing her only hit of the afternoon in the fourth inning. The senior right-hander only struck out three hitters, but only walked one and induced weak grounder after weak grounder to keep the Explorers silent.

In 2017, Colleran struggled significantly in preseason play before becoming the most dominant pitcher in the A-10 once the conference schedule started, and if Saturday is any indication, she’s headed for something similar; Colleran entered the day with her ERA at 3.76, and left the circle at 3.07.

“You could kind of see it on her face all week at practice, she was a different player altogether,” said UMass coach Kristi Stefanoni. “After practice yesterday I asked if people were ready, were they excited, and she was the first to pipe up and smile. You could just see it in her body language, she was ready to go. She threw a really good game today, I was happy to see that come out of Meg.”

Oliver had been the more dominant pitcher in the early part of the season, but she wasn’t quite as flawless as Colleran when she got the ball for Saturday’s second game.

The rookie was charged for three earned runs in five innings on Saturday, but was better than the scoreboard indicated; Oliver only allowed two hits in five innings and walked just one, as UMass romped to an 11-3 win.

“I felt alright,” Oliver said. “Definitely could do a lot better, but it was a good start.

But when Oliver was on, she was on. She flashed some electric swing-and-miss stuff, striking out all three batters she faced in the second inning, before actually striking out four in the fourth, after one reached on a passed ball.

Oliver struck out seven batters in five innings, all of whom went down swinging.

“I think [Oliver] did well,” Colleran said. “We’ve definitely seen her stronger in games in the past, but for her first start in conference I thought she did very well. She didn’t give up too many hits, she looked pretty good.”

She wasn’t as dominant as she’d been coming into the weekend, but it was still a strong performance for Oliver’s first A-10 start.

“It was good,” Stefanoni said. “I think that if you asked her, I’m sure she wasn’t very happy with it, but we’ve got to take it in stride. She’s not always going to be at the very top of her game all the time. She has to understand that she has a strong offense behind her that will score some runs for her, and she’s got a good defense behind her, and that it’s okay to maybe hit your spots all the time and not be on all the time.”

“But I love that about her because she’s super competitive, she always wants to be the best, she always wants to be better, and I like that she expects more of herself. I like that she was not happy, possibly, with today, because that means we’ll get a better Kiara for tomorrow.”

Along with the starters, sophomore Quinn Breidenbach threw two innings in relief in both games, striking out seven in just four innings of shutout work. Breidenbach occasionally struggled with her control, but only surrendered two hits closed the door both times.

“All of them [threw well],” Stefanoni said. “They worked really well together as a unit.”

Saturday’s doubleheader was part of a three-game set, with the finale set for 12 p.m. on Sunday.

Amin Touri can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Amin_Touri.