After down seasons, UMass softball is competing for Atlantic 10 title again

@MattVautourDHG
Published: 4/30/2017 6:18:47 PM

AMHERST – For the better part of a quarter century, the UMass softball program was either at or near the top of the Atlantic 10 standings.

But for the past four seasons, as the Minutewomen coped, first with legendary coach Elaine Sortino’s cancer and then her death, UMass struggled.

The Minutewomen had three straight losing seasons from 2013-2015 and finished 26-24 a year ago, landing in third place in the conference at 15-6.

But now with one week left of the regular season, UMass is tied for first place. Because of rainouts that can’t be rescheduled, winning percentage determines standings. The Minutewomen, who are 12-4 in Atlantic 10 play (24-20 overall) after taking two of three from La Salle this weekend, and Fordham (15-5) have matching .750 marks in conference. UMass took two of three from the favored Rams head-to-head April 14-15.

“We have to show people, we are, what we believe we are – the best team in the conference,” said senior third baseman Jena Cozza, the team’s leading hitter at .444.

More encouraging is that team has been successfu, but likely isn’t peaking. Including Cozza, a senior, who’ll be back after getting a medical redshirt last year, the team’s top five hitters all return in a lineup that features good contact and opportunistic speed. Pitchers Meg Colleran and Candace Denis are also back. Both Colleran, a junior, and Denis a freshman have shined in conference play.

“Because they are so young, they’ve never been in a place like this. I think a little pressure got to them at the beginning,” coach Kristi Stefanoni said. “But its good to see the youth bring us back up. It’s fun. We’re going to ride it.”

Stefanoni said her team’s mindset is clearly improved. After taking a tough loss to La Salle in game one of Saturday’s senior day double header, the Explorers took a 5-4 lead in the top of seventh in game two.

But the players’ confidence was clearly improved, as the Minutewomen came to bat in the bottom of the seventh. They had four hits and a walk to score the tying and winning runs without getting an out to win 6-5. 

“We have a bunch of people who just want to compete. That showed today,” Cozza said.

UMass fell behind 3-0 on Sunday and roared back to win 5-4.

“In the past you might have seen a team roll over a little bit,” Stefanoni said. “We weren’t going to go down without a fight. That’s been pretty consistent of us in the last couple of conference games.”

UMass plays a nonconference game at Bryant, Tuesday and closes with three at Dayton, Saturday and Sunday. The Atlantic 10 Tournament begins at George Mason, May 10.

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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