Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass softball splits final preseason tournament

Minutewomen run-rule St. John’s

Collegian File Photo

Collegian File Photo

By Amin Touri, Assistant Sports Editor

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The Massachusetts softball team wrapped up its preseason slate over the weekend, going 2-2 in its final out-of-state tournament before Wednesday’s home opener.

The Minutewomen (11-10) finished the tournament run on a strong note, dispatching St. John’s in just five innings, run-ruling the Red Storm 12-2 on Sunday afternoon.

A scoreless first inning was followed by a six-run second, as UMass chased St. John’s starter Marissa Rizzi after just 1.2 innings of work. Senior third baseman Jena Cozza went 2-4 with four RBIs in the win, while freshman Jackie Kelley knocked in four runs of her own and shortstop Kaitlyn Stavinoha was a perfect 3-3 at the plate.

The Minutewomen finished with 13 hits as they hung 12 runs on the board to end the game early.

“They can do that when they decide to turn it on and do it,” said coach Kristi Stefanoni. “I’ve been telling them since the beginning of the season how good they are and how good of an offense they can be. I’m never asking them to run-rule everyone, but they have the ability to put up a lot of runs. It’s just how they decide to show up that day and what their approach will be at the plate.”

Cozza has been swinging a particularly hot stick through the tournament schedule, hitting .492 with nine homers and 25 RBIs in just 21 games. Her 1.079 slugging percentage is good for second in the nation, as one of the conference’s premier power threats has been stellar so far.

“One hundred percent, this is the best I’ve seen [Cozza] look throughout her entire career,” said Stefanoni, “and I think it’s more that she’s locked in. Her swing has not changed; it’s more that she’s locked in. This is her senior year; she knows what she wants, she knows how to get it, and she’s bringing everybody with her.”

Earlier on Sunday, UMass came out flat against Boston University, falling 7-4 to start the day. The Minutewomen committed four errors, allowing the Terriers to mount a comeback in the late innings and top their regional rivals.

UMass also split Saturday’s doubleheader, starting the day with a 12-9 win in a shootout with Binghamton, before going quiet again in 2-0 shutout loss to Hofstra.

The Minutewomen could only muster two hits against the Pride, wasting a strong six-inning, two-run performance from freshman right-hander Kiara Oliver.

Oliver’s been the team’s best pitcher through the preseason, going 6-2 with a 2.94 earned run average in nine starts, fanning 68 batters to hit the ground running in her first collegiate season. Oliver picked up the win against St. John’s and picked up a save in the win over Binghamton.

“[Oliver] is a true, true competitor,” Stefanoni said. “She doesn’t like putting people on base—she doesn’t even like giving a home run up 12-0. That was one thing she was harping on yesterday. And we just had to tell her, ‘It’s alright. Sometimes you’re going to throw a good pitch, and a good hitter is going to hit it out. That happens in this game.’ But she is a true competitor—she’s a go-getter.”

UMass finished the preseason tournament schedule 11-10, a significant improvement over last season’s 8-14 start. The Minutewomen have shown flashes of real improvement offensively, having already run-ruled three teams this season.

Stefanoni says she’s more confident in her team than she was at this point a year ago, with her lineup more consistent in 2018.

“A year ago, when we first started to the same point now, in the beginning, I thought to myself, ‘Okay, this is our trial period,’” Stefanoni said. “We’re just testing out lineups and getting game experience with a lot of freshmen in the lineup. [Cozza] wasn’t playing, so we had some people all mixed around. I had a new second baseman; I had a new third baseman. It was tough to get a grasp on them. When preseason was over, going into conference, I was still feeling like I’m not really sure what we have.”

“This year, from the get-go, I knew what we had; I knew what we could do. So there’s been no change for me, I think if anything, I’m just even more excited for the second part of the season to start to really see what we have,” Stefanoni added.

UMass’ home opener is scheduled for Wednesday, subject to change due to inclement weather.

If Sortino Field is ready, the Minutewomen will host Boston College at 4 p.m.

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

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