Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass softball sweeps Fordham, clinches A-10 regular season title

Minutewomen 19-0 in Atlantic 10

Caroline O'Connor

Caroline O'Connor

By Amin Touri, Assistant Sports Editor

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For the first time since 2012, the Massachusetts softball team has brought home some hardware.

With a come-from-behind win on Sunday, UMass (31-12, 19-0 Atlantic 10) swept Fordham on the road to claim its first A-10 regular season championship in six years, the first under coach Kristi Stefanoni.

“I mean I feel great,” Stefanoni said, “I didn’t even really think about it all that much for me. The first thing I thought of was the program, to bring the program back to the top after we’ve been kind of kicking and clawing our way through the standings since probably 2013.

“But it feels great for the program, I feel really proud of the team and everybody that’s been a part of it.”

Down 3-0 after four, the Minutewomen exploded for a five-run fifth inning to take the lead for good and earn the 24th conference title in program history.

After a shaky outing on Saturday, senior Meg Colleran got the ball to start the series finale. It wasn’t vintage Colleran dominance but it was an improvement, as she went four innings and allowed five hits and two earned runs. She was uncharacteristically wild, walking seven batters, but didn’t get hammered like she did on Sunday.

The Minutewomen had hits in each of the first four innings, but couldn’t plate a run until the fifth. Senior Jena Cozza got things started, continuing her stellar weekend with a solo homer to left, her third bomb of the weekend.

Stefanoni was surprised the Rams (27-20, 15-4 A-10) actually chose to pitch to Cozza this weekend, and they paid for it.

“One time I can tell you was an accident, just from talking to their coach,” Stefanoni said. “And that accident, unfortunately, turned into a home run… I think as we got later in the game and they were up 2-0, 3-0, they figured, she can only give them one run, and they pitched to her, and that one time they did, she made it 3-1, and I think that was the inning we really got going.”

After Cozza’s solo shot, Erin Stacevicz got on with a bunt, and when Kaycee Carbone tried to bunt her over, an errant throw brought Stacevicz all the way around to make it 3-2. Madison Gimpl and Melissa Garcia both reached to load the bases, and Amy Smith’s RBI single tied the game.

Hannah Bunker drew a bases-loaded walk to give UMass its first lead of the day, and Riley Gregoire plated Gimpl with a sacrifice fly to complete the five-run inning and set the stage for Kiara Oliver to close out the title-clinching win.

Oliver threw three near-perfect innings, allowing no hits, no runs, and only one baserunner on a walk to seal it, striking out three batters in the process.

It was the second comeback win of the weekend for the Minutewomen, who twice needed big innings late to complete the sweep.

“(We) were extremely resilient. I think it was great that we were tested the way that we were, because once we get into the tournament everyone’s 0-0,” Stefanoni said. “Fordham’s a great team, they’re a great hitting team, so they can come from behind if they just keep fighting and believing in themselves, I think it was really good for them.”

UMass took all three games from its biggest rivals and closest competitors on the same field on which the A-10 tournament will be contested next weekend.

“Normally I get really nervous, that’s just me as a coach,” said Stefanoni. “It’s just the anticipation of the game and I hope we perform well, but I was able to, a couple times over the weekend, just sit back and relax and just kind of watch it all unfold because I have so much confidence in them. It’s fun when you can just sit back and relax, knowing we’re going to be alright. The team’s just going to take care of that. I haven’t felt like that in a really long time.”

For now, the Minutewomen can celebrate their first A-10 since 2012, with the opportunity to complete a perfect conference season against George Mason this weekend.

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

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