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UMass softball team misses Atlantic 10 tournament for first time

AMHERST — As they sat in the dugout for the final time in the 2013 season, the University of Massachusetts softball players seemed unsure what to do next. There was an autograph session to get to as part of the program’s annual fanfest, but for a while they sat in stunned silence, knowing that their season was over.

A 12-3 loss to Saint Louis in the second game of Sunday’s doubleheader ended the Minutewomen’s tough season on a down note. For the first time in the 30 years that the Atlantic 10 has had a softball league, the conference tournament will not include UMass.

After being swept by Butler on Friday and Saturday, the Minutewomen entered Sunday’s doubleheader needing to win both games to earn a spot in the six-team field for the A-10 tournament which will be played at Elaine Sortino Field starting Wednesday. UMass won the first game 5-2, which meant the winner of the second claimed a berth in the conference tournament.

The wheels came off for the Minutemen in their final game.

“We had a job to do this weekend and unfortunately we fell short. On Friday and Saturday I thought we were really, really tight at the plate,” UMass coach Elaine Sortino said. “If we came either Friday or Saturday like the team we were (Sunday) we’d be looking at a different story. But it wasn’t meant to be.”

The Minutewomen jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the second game when Tiffany Meeks’ bloop single brought home Cyndil Matthew from second in the bottom of the first.

UMass redshirt sophomore pitcher Caroline Raymond was sharp in the first game, allowing two runs on five hits and five walks while striking out three.

But Raymond, who is just a season removed from surgery that caused her to miss all of 2012, tired in the second game two, her fourth game in three days. She worked around two walks in the first inning, but her control troubles caught up with her in the second. After she gave up a double and two walks to load the bases, Raymond struck out pitcher Laney Kneib. But Jessica Buschjost walked to force in the tying run and prompt a visit from Sortino.

Lindsay Friedman then guessed correctly that Raymond would try to hit the strike zone right away and poked the first pitch to left for an RBI single that put the Billikens up 2-1. Laura Bohning then blew the game open with a grand slam to the gap in right center.

After Kelsey Biggs to pop to second, Jessica Van Nostrand clubbed the second home run of the inning to left center to put Saint Louis ahead 7-1. That ended Raymond’s day as Sortino summoned Bridget Lemire who got out of the inning without further damage.

“Caroline is flat-out worn out. Caroline isn’t going to throw four (effective) games in a weekend,” said Sortino, whose No. 2 pitcher, Emma Mendoker, had been unavailable for almost a month with consecutive arm and head injuries. “If you can get three games out of (Raymond) you’re doing really well and unfortunately that’s what got us in the end.”

After the Minutewomen went out in order in the bottom of the second inning, Saint Louis scored three more in the third to take a 10-1 lead and put UMass at risk of having the game ended early by the mercy rule of at least an eight-run lead after five innings.

Lindsey Webster temporarily ended that risk with a two-run double in the bottom of the fourth, but the Billikens (26-21, 13-9 A-10) responded with two in the top of the fifth against Lemire and Mendoker to increase their lead to 12-3. The Minutewomen did not get a base runner in the bottom of the frame, ending the game.

“That grand slam was tough,” senior Katie Bettencourt said. “But at that point I was pretty confident that we could handle their pitcher and score some runs. We weren’t going to give up. But unfortunately it didn’t happen for us.”

The Minutewomen finished 18-25 (12-10 A-10). Sortino said she is proud of the way her team bounced back after starting 2-13.

“It was one thing after another,” she said. “The way they fought back and where the pitching came to after the way it started, they did a great job. The hole was so deep before we ever turned the corner, it was tough to get out.

“The players that are returning, particularly the pitchers, there’s a lot of things they’re going to be able to do that’s really going to help them,” Sortino added. “Where they’ll be in the fall compared to where they started, it’s not even close.”

Sortino said she believes the returning players would be motivated by the disappointment of not making the conference tournament.

“I feel like this has been very frustrating for the younger players,” she said. “They came here to be part of a winning tradition. We don’t know what to do right now. We’ve never been here before. I think the fire will burn brightly.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.

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