Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Early season blemishes give UMass softball room for improvement on .500 record

The Minutewomen lost their first A-10 game since 2017 on Sunday

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Early season blemishes give UMass softball room for improvement on .500 record

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By Dan McGee, Collegian Staff

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Having gone undefeated in Atlantic 10 play last season, the Massachusetts softball team entered 2019 with high expectations. After suffering it’s first A-10 loss since 2017 to Saint Louis on Sunday, UMass (14-14, 3-1 A-10) is constantly improving to continue its success into Wednesday’s game versus Connecticut and this weekend’s series versus La Salle.

“We just take it game-by-game, pitch-by-pitch,” said coach Kristi Stefanoni. “That’s usually what our mentality is when we go into a game like this. I hope it fairs well against a pitching staff like UConn. I feel prepared, I think they feel prepared, so we’ll see how it goes.”

In the batter’s box this season, the Minutewomen have found success replacing the hole Jena Cozza left upon graduation. Leading the team in RBI’s with 22 and holding a monumental 1.131 OPS, Kaitlyn Stavinoha has found plenty of success slotting into the three-hole in the lineup, winning her second A-10 Player of the Week award following her performances against Boston College and St. Louis (9-21, 4-3 A-10) last week.

Kaycee Carbone has complimented Stavinoha well, as she has secured second in the team in RBIs with 17 and amassed an impressive .927 OPS while batting in the cleanup role. Carbone also earned herself an A-10 Player of the Week award this season.

“[Kaitlyn Stavinoha and Kaycee Carbone] have been absolutely phenomenal,” said Stefanoni. “I think finally, I’ve stopped getting the question of who’s going to replace [Jena Cozza]. It’s because the two of them have been doing so well and have really stepped up big time for their team.”

However, the Minutewomen offense has dwindled at times this season, leaving runners on base and potential runs off the scoreboard. In their win against Saint Louis on Sunday, the Minutewomen scored eight times, half of which came via bases-loaded walks. They left 12 runners on base versus the Billikens in the victory and followed up the second half of the double-header with a 7-5 loss in which they left six runners on. They’ll need more clutch hitting moving forward.

“It just so happens right now [Stavinoha and Carbone] are carrying the offense quite a bit so their importance is huge,” continued Stefanoni. “Not only on the field, but off the field as well.”

Stavinoha sees runners being left on base as an issue, but one that the team can continue to tackle as the season rolls on.

“There’s always things you can improve on,” said Stavinoha. “You never want to leave a lot of people on base. It’s a good thing that we have a lot of people on, it’s just that one key hit so I think if we just keep plugging, we’ll be fine. Someone will get that one key hit.

“I think we’ve been hitting the ball well lately,” she added. “We just need to relax and focus in on what we do best and hit the ball.”

Beyond a lack of clutch hitting, the Minutewomen will need to maintain some consistency in the pitching circle. While Kiara Oliver continues to dominate opposing offenses, touting a 2.52 ERA and nine complete games on the season, she sits at just 6-11 on the season. Quinn Breidenbach failed to record an out on Sunday, giving up four runs off two home-runs in the first inning. Kenadee Rausch has looked sharp at times, earning a Rookie of the Week award this year, but the group will need to keep the ball rolling for long term success.

Despite the up and down efforts of her pitching staff, Stefanoni isn’t sweating the results from her three pitchers.

“Softball is such a game of hit or miss,” said Stefanoni. “You could go out and have a great couple outings and then just miss pitch a couple and everything could be different.”

The Minutewomen have not failed expectations by any means, currently sitting at second place in the A-10. If they can work out some of the minor kinks they’ve had early on, UMass is poised for the success it’s expected to have this season.

First pitch versus UConn is set for 3 p.m. on Wednesday.

Dan McGee can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @DMcGeeUMass.

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