UMass softball enters Atlantic 10 Tournament as favorite, eyes return to NCAA Tournament

  • UMass' Kiara Oliver pitches April 24, 2018 during the second game of a softball doubleheader against Rhode Island in Amherst.

  • UMass' Jena Cozza stands ready for a pitch April 24, 2018 during the second game of a softball doubleheader against Rhode Island in Amherst.

@MattVautourDHG
Published: 5/9/2018 11:17:37 PM

From 1995 to 2010, the UMass softball program was a fixture in the NCAA Tournament field. Not only did it get in each of those years, but it reached the Women’s College World Series twice and a super regional once.

Since then, the Minutewomen have only qualified for the NCAAs once and haven’t been there at all since 2012.

But UMass left for Fordham Tuesday as the favorite to win the Atlantic 10 Tournament and return to the field. The Minutewomen (33-12 overall) were perfect in conference play (21-0) to earn the No. 1 seed at Bahoshy Softball Complex in New York.

Coach Kristi Stefanoni said the Minutewomen are trying to avoid looking too far ahead.

“We had a long talk with them about staying within ourselves and sticking to our process of one game at a time, one inning at time, one pitch at a time,” she said. “We’re trying to keep it as consistent as we can.”

Senior Jena Cozza, the Atlantic 10’s Player of the Year, was glad the postseason had arrived.

“Everyone is super excited. We’re just ready to play,” said Cozza, who led the A-10 with a .488 batting average. “People have had it on their minds. Getting an Atlantic 10 championship has been the main goal for us.”

UMass, which had a bye in the first round, opens the double elimination event at noon Thursday against No. 5 Saint Louis, which beat George Mason, 5-2, Wednesday. The winner will advance to the winner’s bracket Friday at noon. If the Minutewomen lose they’d play an elimination game in the losers’ bracket, Friday at 2:30 p.m.

UMass beat SLU 10-0 and 4-0 on April 14 in Amherst. The third game of the series was rained out.

Fordham, which has won five straight crowns, is the No. 2 seed and the host. The Rams beat the Minutewomen in the a winner-take-all final in last year’s tournament.

UMass swept the regular season series with the Rams, 9-5, 6-2, 5-3 on April 28 and 29 at Bahoshy.

“We got to play there before we had to go there for A-10s,” Cozza said. “We’re familiar with it. That helps out.”

In the third game of that series, UMass came from behind to earn the road win.

Stefanoni said that was a big step in her team’s season-long confidence growth.

“They led 3-0 going into the fifth inning and we were able to muster a really good comeback,” she said. “I think their confidence is growing game by game. They trust each other and trust the process.”

The softball team will try to be the first UMass women’s team to make the NCAA Tournament this season after an uncharacteristically down year for the campus’ female teams. The men’s soccer and men’s lacrosse teams each earned bids.

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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