UMass softball salutes late coach Elaine Sortino with sweep of Yale in home opener
AMHERST — In its first home game of the season, and the first games ever at Sortino Field without Elaine Sortino, the University of Massachusetts softball team delivered a performance Sortino, who died in August, would have been proud of.
Playing against Yale, where Sortino coached for two years before becoming a fixture in Amherst, UMass swept the doubleheader 3-1 and 6-1, Wednesday on the first ideal spring day of the season.
“I told the kids, ‘This one’s for coach,’” said UMass coach Kristi Stefanoni, who was a former player and assistant coach under Sortino. “They want to play for her and do well for her.”
UMass had a moment of silence before the game. Former Minutewoman field hockey coach Pam Hixon, who shared an office with Sortino for years and a friendship for even longer, threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
The UMass players all had Sortino’s initials — EJS — on a patch on the right sleeve of their uniforms, while some wore black headbands with pink breast cancer ribbons as well as her initials. The Minutewomen will wear the patch all season.
“When we did the moment of silence, it hit me and probably a few of us that we’re playing for coach,” junior Quianna Diaz Patterson said.
“During the national anthem I was looking at the Sortino Field sign,” senior captain Lindsey Webster said. “She was here in spirit. So glad we got two wins for her today.”
The pregame ceremony was the last planned event memorializing the beloved coach.
“Now we can focus on staying in the process and moving forward,” Stefanoni said. “We’re going to be honoring what we know we should be honoring, but focusing on moving forward from here.”
Webster hoped the wins could be a springboard for UMass, who improved to 5-14.
“It’s a phenomenal way to start our home schedule,” she said. “It was our first sweep of the year. I couldn’t feel any better.”
In the first game, Caroline Raymond surrendered a solo home run to Brittany Labbadia, the second batter she faced. But the Minutewoman pitcher settled down and scattered three hits the rest of the way. She struck out five and walked three.
Webster, who was 5-for-6 in the doubleheader, didn’t let Raymond sit in a hole long. She tripled home Taylor Carbone from first in the bottom of the first inning to tie the game.
“When Lindsey Webster is on, this team wins,” Stefanoni said. “She’s leader on and off the field, and it totally showed today.”
Webster added another RBI in the fifth to put UMass ahead, 2-1, and Cote Clark drove in Mikayla Panko with an insurance run in the sixth.
In game two, Quianna Diaz-Patterson’s leadoff double led to a run in the first and the Minutewomen added three more in the third to make it 4-0.
Freshman Tara Klee thrived in the circle with the four-run cushion. She showed off an impressive change up and earned the second win of her career allowing four hits and two walks while striking out three in five innings.
“This was the Tara we’ve been waiting to show up,” Stefanoni said. “This is the Tara we usually see in workouts. It’s going to take a couple games for her to get some confidence. Her change up was on today. When her change up is on, there’s no stopping Tara.”
Fellow freshman Dakota Smith-Porter earned the save with two innings of scoreless relief.
“I thought we had flawless defense, timely hitting and absolutely fantastic pitching today. I couldn’t have asked for better opening day for all of us,” said Stefanoni, who went out of her way to praise the grounds crew. “The sun was out. The guys worked double time to get the field ready for us. It all came together. It was a great way to start off our home slate.”