Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass softball doubles up Fordham, moves to brink of A-10 regular season title

Minutewomen still perfect in Atlantic 10

Caroline O'Connor

Caroline O'Connor

By Amin Touri, Assistant Sports Editor

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Two up, two down.

The Massachusetts softball team came out firing in its biggest regular season series of the year, sweeping a doubleheader against Fordham on Saturday to stay unbeaten in conference play and move to within a win of an Atlantic 10 regular season title.

Nearly a year removed from a heartbreaking A-10 title game loss to the Rams (27-19, 15-3 A-10), the Minutewomen (30-12, 18-0 A-10) notched 9-5 and 6-2 wins on Fordham’s home field in a battle of the conference’s top two teams.

The Rams have one of the conference’s best offenses, trailing only UMass in runs per game in conference play this season. Freshman Kiara Oliver saw that prolific offense, and raised by nearly throwing a no-hitter.

Oliver threw 5.2 innings of no-hit ball before her bid was broken up. She fell victim to some bad luck — after getting Madi Shaw down 0-2, Oliver was fuming after a questionable ball call to keep the inning alive, and two pitches later Shaw launched a two-run homer to end Oliver’s no-no and her shutout.

Oliver shut the door on a 6-2 win in the ninth to finish the complete game, allowing two runs on three hits while striking out 11 Rams en route to her 16th win of an already impressive season.

“[Oliver] impresses me every game,” said UMass coach Kristi Stefanoni. “She takes that fire into everyf game. I’d by lying if I sat here and said she didn’t take it more seriously or it didn’t more to her today, but she really impresses me every time she goes out there.”

While Oliver was busy flirting with a no-hitter, the UMass lineup came alive from top to bottom, as seven different Minutewomen accounted for the team’s nine hits off reigning A-10 Pitcher of the Year Lauren Quense.

After three scoreless innings, UMass hung three runs on the board to give Oliver some breathing room, punctuated by a two-RBI single from junior Erin Stacevicz.

A pair of bombs in the sixth added some insurance, as junior Kaitlyn Stavinoha launched her second home run of the season deep to right to make it 4-0, before Jena Cozza hammered one to left center to score two more and put things well out of reach.

It was Cozza’s second homer of the day, part of a 3-for-4, four-RBI afternoon for the senior third baseman, who also walked four times across two games.

“I don’t know why they pitched to her,” Stefanoni said, “but I was happy for her to break out of whatever she thinks that she’s in, the last couple games she struggled a bit, hadn’t been doing what she’s used to doing. It was good to see her open up and hit the ball hard, the one at bat they decided to pitch to her she made the most of it.

“In the second game when they pitched to her she did really well obviously with that one too, I was happy to see that she’s back hitting the ball.”

Minutewomen explode for nine runs in game one

A two-run deficit after one inning isn’t exactly an ideal start, but after UMass responded with five runs in the top half of the second, it was clear the offense came to play.

A Stavinoha double started the scoring, and a couple Fordham errors helped four unearned runs score after that.

The Rams pitched around Cozza, walking her three times in the first game, but the one time they made the mistake of throwing to her, she drilled one out to left to put the Minutewomen up 7-3 after four. A couple insurance runs in the fifth put UMass up 9-3, and though Fordham plated two in the bottom half, Oliver silenced the Rams in the final two frames to seal a 9-5 win.

Junior Kaycee Carbone starred in the first game, going 3-for-4 with four RBIs to provide a bulk of the run production.

Senior Meg Colleran struggled with her location on Sunday, leaving several balls up and getting punished to the tune of six hits and five runs, all of which came on Fordham home runs. Nonetheless, Stefanoni still has confidence in her veteran.

“Worry is probably not the right word,” Stefanoni said. “Let’s figure out how we can be different for tomorrow, so that we can be better on the mound. I wouldn’t say worried, it’s more of just let’s watch some video and see how we can be better.”

Oliver only allowed one hit in throwing a scoreless 2.2 innings to close it out, part of a brilliant day for the precocious young pitcher.

UMass finished with 15 runs on 20 hits across both game, as the Rams hurt themselves with multiple defensive mistakes throughout the afternoon.

“I think that no matter what, we’re always going to get their best. They’re competitive. It was an absolute battle today. I know a lot of runs were scored and they did make a few errors, but it was a slugfest, it was a battle, and it will be a battle again tomorrow.

Now 18-0 in conference, the Minutewomen have a chance to seal an A-10 regular season title with a win in the series finale on Sunday.

First pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m.

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

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