Emma Mendoker, UMass softball beat Boston College
Thom Kendall for UMass Athletics
UMass catcher Samantha Gray, left, and pitcher Emma Mendoker embrace following their victory over Boston Wednesday at Sortino Field in Amherst. Purchase photo reprints »
Thom Kendall for UMass Athletics
Emma Mendoker delivers a pitch to Boston College Wednesday at Sortino Field in Amherst. Purchase photo reprints »
AMHERST — There were still some anxious moments for the University of Massachusetts softball team Wednesday, but the positive signs and the final result far outweighed the concerns.
In the Minutewomen’s home opener, the first game since the softball complex became Sortino Field, UMass dug out of an early hole and survived a late rally to beat Boston College 8-7.
“It’s nice to win,” said UMass coach Elaine Sortino, whose team improved to 4-16. “When you’ve been losing like we’ve been losing and struggling like we’ve been struggling, there’s value in everything. ... I think this lets us breathe and turn the corner.”
It’s been a long journey to career win No. 1 for former Amherst Regional standout Emma Mendoker. She began her career at East Carolina last year, but suffered an arm injury and decided to transfer to UMass. In the process of regaining her strength and control, Mendoker struggled. Her control has been erratic, but she took steps forward in her first game back in Amherst to earn the victory.
The defining moment for Mendoker came in the top of the sixth inning. She’d allowed a home run to Maria Pandofo to start the frame and then gave up three unearned runs with two outs, shrinking UMass’ lead from five runs to one. Sortino approached the mound as Tory Speer came to the plate with two runners on, but instead of summoning Caroline Raymond, Sortino stuck with her freshman pitcher. The coach laid out a plan to pitch around Speer, who walked on four pitches to load the bases, and how to go after Pandolfo, the 10th batter of the inning.
“Instead of pulling me out I felt like she was really believing in me. That gives me more confidence,” Mendoker said. “She gave me a plan and I felt like I had a clearer idea of how to deal with the batters.”
Sortino said it was an important part of a pitcher’s development.
“I was going to leave her in all the way,” Sortino said. “The only way Caroline and Emma are going to get better is to come through these experiences. They don’t have game experience. They need to learn how to come through tough innings. You don’t learn unless your our there.”
Mendoker rewarded the faith. She froze Pandolfo with a 2-2 change-up for the inning-ending strikeout. Catcher Samantha Gray jumped out of her crouch pumping her fist, while Mendoker’s face cracked into a smile.
“That was a big turning point for me, an adrenaline high for sure,” said Mendoker, who allowed a one-out single in the seventh but was sharp again to seal the win.
“It’s the first one of many I think. I think this was a major turnaround for everyone,” Mendoker said. “We had a rough preseason, but with our failures we learned a lot.”
UMass appeared to be in trouble early as the Eagles jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first. Mendoker walked leadoff batter Megan Cooley and Alana DiMaso followed with an opposite-field home run that sailed over the fence in right-center field.
After inducing a groundout, Mendoker allowed a double to C.J. Chirichigno and an infield single to short. On the play, Quianna Diaz-Patterson threw wide of first allowing Chirichigno to give BC a 3-0 lead.
After Mendoker worked around a pair of walks in a scoreless second, UMass’ offense came to life with some help from a struggling BC defense.
Lindsey Webster, who started both rallies for UMass, led off the second with a single to center and moved up when Teea Rogers reached on an error and Taylor Carbone singled to left to load the bases.
Designated player Christine Della Vecchia, who played for the first time since suffering a knee injury in the second game of the season, gave UMass a lift with a bloop RBI single to left.
“Bringing her back into the DP spot and having the spot come alive for us was a shot in the arm,” Sortino said. “We were dead at the bottom of the order. She brought it back for us.”
After Rogers scored on a passed ball, Chirichigno misplayed Katie Bettencourt’s grounder up the middle allowing Carbone to score the trying run.
Both pitchers settled down from there as Mendoker retired nine straight batters in the third, four and fifth.
Leading off the fifth, Webster drilled a 3-1 pitch down the left-field line. Umpires Todd Robbins and Chris Lucier seemed unsure whether the ball was a home run or foul. They huddled and ruled it was a home run. Video replay, which the umpires didn’t have access to, backed up their call as the ball hit the foul pole.
The home run put UMass up 4-3 and ignited the Minutewomen. With one out, Carbone (three hits) singled to left and Della Vecchia singled off pitcher Chelsea Dimon’s glove.
After Gray flew to left, Cyndill Matthew poked a soft single to right scoring Lindsey Zenk (pinch running for Carbone) to make it 5-3 as Della Vecchia scooted in to third. Matthew stole second and scored behind Della Vecchia when Diaz-Patterson sliced a two-run single to make it 7-3. Diaz-Patterson stole second and scored on Bettencourt’s single up the middle giving Mendoker an 8-3 edge when she came out for the sixth.
“This is a great lift,” Webster said. “We really needed this win, especially in the home opener.”
Matt Vautour can be reached at email@example.com. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at @GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.