Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass softball falls to Fordham in A-10 championship game

Minutewomen can’t complete late rally
(Caroline O’Connor/Daily Collegian)

It really seemed like this would be the year.

For the second year in a row, the season ended in heartbreak at the hands of Fordham in the Atlantic 10 title game for the Massachusetts softball team, as the Minutewomen couldn’t quite complete a late comeback on Saturday.

Down 6-0 heading into the bottom of the fifth, UMass (35-14) managed to push two runs across in both the fifth and sixth to cut the lead to 6-4, but that’s as close as it would get as a final-inning rally couldn’t produce another run.

It’s a tough way to go out for a team that came into the tournament as the unbeaten top seed, with the best offense and the best pitching staff in the conference.

“We gave it our absolute best effort,” said coach Kristi Stefanoni. “They came back today looking like a totally different team from yesterday, and we just needed to get back to playing UMass softball and playing the game the way that we’ve been playing it all year. And we got a little away from it yesterday, but they gave it as much as they possibly could. Blood, sweat, tears went into the whole game. I’m absolutely heartbroken for every one of these kids, for my staff… they gave it their all. “

Senior Meg Colleran, in her final appearance in UMass maroon, got the ball on Saturday and was initially strong, keeping the Rams (33-21) scoreless through three innings. She made her first real mistake in the top of the fourth, as Fordham freshman Paige Rauch launched a no-doubter to center field to open the scoring.

A walk and a couple Ram singles plated a second run in the fourth, before Colleran managed to escape with limited damage.

Fordham really took control in the fifth, as Colleran walked Chelsea Skrepenek and gave up a single to Madie Aughinbaugh to load the bases with two outs. Lauren Quense stepped to the plate and took an outside pitch to dead center, a grand slam to put the Rams up 6-0 and put the game seemingly out of reach.

Colleran left the circle for the final time after 4.2 innings of work, allowing six earned runs on seven hits, walking three and striking out four. Freshman Kiara Oliver threw the remaining 2.1, a flawless relief outing with no hits, no walks, no runs and four strikeouts.

The Minutewomen struggled to string together hits against Fordham starter Madie Aughinbaugh, who didn’t surrender a run through four innings. Senior Jena Cozza finally managed to break things open for UMass in the bottom of the fifth with a towering two-run shot to left center, the start of an improbable comeback attempt.

Down 6-2 in the bottom of the sixth, Melissa Garcia got things started with a leadoff double to left center, and Madison Gimpl beat out an infield single to move her over to third. The throw got away from Quense, and Garcia came around to score to cut the lead to 6-3.

Aughinbaugh turned things over to Rauch, the A-10 Rookie of the Year, who struggled to find the strike zone early. She walked Amy Smith on four pitches, and after getting Kaitlyn Stavinoha to fly out, walked Hannah Bunker to load the bases. Riley Gregoire popped out to shallow left, and so came the at-bat of the tournament.

Cozza, the A-10 Player of the Year and the conference’s best hitter, stepped in with two outs, the based loaded, down three and nowhere to put her. Fordham coach Bridget Orchard intentionally walked her anyway.

“I knew that they were going to do it,” Stefanoni said. “It was no surprise to me that they would walk her.”

In the gutsiest move of the tournament, the Rams decided to give up a run instead of facing Cozza, putting her on first and cutting their own lead to 6-4, and when Erin Stacevicz grounded out to end the inning, the gamble paid off.

UMass managed to get two runners on with one down in the final inning, but Rauch settled in and got Smith to pop out and Stavinoha to fly out to deep left, her second warning-track flyout of the day, sealing Fordham’s sixth consecutive A-10 tournament title.

“Today, balls didn’t fall when they needed to, balls were literally caught right at the wall,” said Stefanoni. “We hit the ball hard, played really good defense, and it’s just a matter of their balls went over the wall and ours didn’t, so.”

UMass’ final pieces of silverware this season came postgame, as Cozza, Colleran and Garcia were named to the A-10 All-Championship team — a small consolation, but not the trophy they wanted. Seniors Cozza and Colleran will be moving on this spring, having reached the end of their time in maroon.

“I’m going to miss Jena and Megan a lot,” Stefanoni said, “they’ve meant a lot to me over these last five years, they’ve meant a lot to the University and the program, and I just wish I could’ve done something a little different for them.”

The Minutewomen finish the season with their highest win total since 2012, and their first A-10 regular season championship since that same year. Their 21 conference wins tied an all-time A-10 record.

“This was an amazing season, an amazing season for them, for us as a staff, I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to take this journey with, they were absolutely incredible,” said Stefanoni. “The only thing I wanted for them was this, and unfortunately it didn’t happen, and we’ll go back to the drawing board and figure out how to be better a year from now.

“I think in a couple of days it’ll sink in for them, maybe for some it’ll be the middle of the summer, I know for me it’s going to take a couple days to really feel all of what we accomplished this year, because the only thing I and they can really think about is that the one thing that we really wanted just didn’t happen. I can say, truly, that I love this group of people, and I had an absolutely amazing time with them, coaching them, being around them. I don’t think there was ever a moment from the start of the season in September until this very day that I ever felt like ‘ugh, I just need a break,’ and I can’t remember the last time I felt that way.

“So I thank them for all that they gave to me and my staff, to this University, to this program. They made a lot of alumni proud this year, including myself.”

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

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    Tom GilmoreMay 15, 2018 at 8:48 am

    Orchard does not get enough recognition for what she’s accomplished at Fordham. What a ballsy move to intentionally walk in a run to secure the victory. Six Championships. She’ll have to start putting her Championship rings on her toes.