Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Pitching dominance propel UMass softball over Rhode Island

Oliver strikes out 11

Caroline O'Connor

Caroline O'Connor

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Runs were at a premium in Tuesday’s doubleheader matchup between the Massachusetts softball team and Rhode Island, especially for the Rams who managed just three runs between the two games.

In the third inning of game two, UMass (28-12, 16-0 Atlantic 10) found themselves in some trouble. Kiara Oliver, having just allowed URI (11-30, 3-12 A-10) to cut the Minutewomen lead to 2-1, still had two baserunners and no outs. Oliver proceeded to induce soft contact to third base where Jena Cozza stepped on the bag before firing onto first to complete the double play.

“If we don’t have Kiara today, we don’t win the game,” said Coach Kristi Stefanoni.

A strikeout to the following batter in the third inning shut the door on the Rams and kept the Minutewomen’s slim lead intact. The strikeout was one of 11 for the freshman Oliver, the highest total of her young career.

“I think that I did all right,” Oliver said. “It could have been better, but I think I did pretty good.”

“She did what she does well today,” Stefanoni added, “and that is to get people to swing and miss.”

Oliver sustained what has been an excellent start to her college career, building off her Atlantic 10 Pitcher of the Week honors from a week ago. Only four of the 24 total batters she faced over her seven innings of work managed to reach base.

Following Oliver’s scare in the third inning, she buckled down and stymied URI’s bats. Between the fourth and seventh innings not a single Ram managed to get aboard, culminating in two strikeouts in the seventh inning to secure the UMass victory.

“At the beginning of the season I was a little more nervous,” Oliver said, “but now I know that I just have to pound the zone and get them to put the ball in play and get out of the jam.”

Oliver was not the only dominant UMass pitcher to take the circle on Tuesday. The other pitching gem came from an unexpected arm to propel the Minutewomen to a 6-2 win.

In the first inning of game one, Minutewomen ace Meg Colleran struggled, lasting only two-thirds of an inning before Stefanoni handed the ball over to reliever Quinn Breidenbach who whiffed Melanie Martire to strand two URI baserunners.

Breidenbach was nothing short of dominant in her relief effort, going the remaining distance and only surrendering a single run on three hits.

“It’s a very selfless position to know that you may not get the start every time,” Stefanoni said, “but to know that your job is still extremely important.”

Breidenbach ran into a snag in the top of the fifth, the UMass offense having just provided the necessary runs to give her a 6-2 advantage. With the bases loaded and two out for URI, Breidenbach gave up a sinking line drive to right field that looked like it would find some grass.

But, junior Riley Gregoire was up to the challenge, making an acrobatic sliding catch to keep the Rams off the board in the inning.

“It is extremely important to have to come in and keep them at bay until we can kind of catch up,” Stefanoni said, “and Quinn has been great at that and embraced that role.”

“I’ve learned to enjoy it,” Breidenbach said of her role as a reliever. “It’s different; you come in later in the game and you just have to slam the door on people.”

The Minutewomen return to action on Wednesday taking on regional foe Connecticut at 4 p.m. at Sortino Field.

Noah Bortle can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @noah_bortle.

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