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UMass riding different momentum into A-10 Softball Tournament

  • Danielle Ellis (10), of UMass, celebrates with her teammates after her walk-off hit against Providence in the seventh inning, Tuesday, April 30 at Sortino Field in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Danielle Ellis, of UMass, watches her walk-off hit against Providence College in the seventh inning, Tuesday, April 30, 2019 at Sortino Field in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Erin Stacevicz, of UMass, hits a single in the seventh inning against Providence College, Tuesday, April 30, 2019 at Sortino Field in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Hannah Bunker, of UMass, hits a single in the seventh inning against Providence College, Tuesday, April 30, 2019 at Sortino Field in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Crista San Antonio, top, of Providence College, collides with UMass shortstop Kaitlyn Stavinoha, Tuesday, April 30, 2019 at Sortino Field in Amherst. Stavinoha was fielding a hit from Molly McGarry and San Antonio was headed to third base when the collision occurred. San Antonio was out. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Quinn Breidenbach, of UMass, pitches to Providence on April 30 at Sortino Field in Amherst. The Minutewomen host the Atlantic 10 Tournament starting Wednesday. Second-seeded UMass plays its first game on Thursday. STAFF FILE PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Massachusetts' Kenadee Rausch pitches against LaSalle during an NCAA softball game on Sunday, April 7, 2019 in Amherst, Mass. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson) Winslow Townson

  • Massachusetts' Quinn Breidenbach pitches against LaSalle during an NCAA softball game on Sunday, April 7, 2019 in Amherst, Mass. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson) Winslow Townson

  • Massachusetts' Jackie Kelley runs the bases against LaSalle during an NCAA softball game on Sunday, April 7, 2019 in Amherst, Mass. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson) Winslow Townson

  • Massachusetts' Melissa Garcia smiles against LaSalle during an NCAA softball game on Sunday, April 7, 2019 in Amherst, Mass. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson) Winslow Townson

  • Massachusetts' Hannah Bunker leads off base against LaSalle during an NCAA softball game on Sunday, April 7, 2019 in Amherst, Mass. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson) Winslow Townson

  • Massachusetts' Kaitlyn Stavinoha on the bases against LaSalle during an NCAA softball game on Sunday, April 7, 2019 in Amherst, Mass. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson) Winslow Townson

  • Massachusetts' Kendra Allen on the bases against LaSalle during an NCAA softball game on Sunday, April 7, 2019 in Amherst, Mass. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson) Winslow Townson

  • Massachusetts' Hannah Bunker throws out a runner against LaSalle during an NCAA softball game on Sunday, April 7, 2019 in Amherst, Mass. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson) Winslow Townson

  • Massachusetts' Riley Gregoire on the bases against LaSalle during an NCAA softball game on Sunday, April 7, 2019 in Amherst, Mass. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson) Winslow Townson

  • LaSalle's Morgan Orlowski pitches against Massachusetts during an NCAA softball game on Sunday, April 7, 2019 in Amherst, Mass. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson) Winslow Townson

  • Massachusetts' Kaitlyn Stavinoha on the bases against LaSalle during an NCAA softball game on Sunday, April 7, 2019 in Amherst, Mass. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson) Winslow Townson



Staff Writer
Friday, May 10, 2019

AMHERST — Evidently UMass doesn’t need to win games in order to gain some momentum.

At this time last year, the Minutewomen were 21-0 in the Atlantic 10 and had won 23 of their last 25 softball games headed into the conference tournament at Fordham. It didn’t end well for UMass, which lost twice to Fordham to fall short of securing the program’s first NCAA Tournament bid since 2012.

This season, UMass hasn’t put together that same type of winning streak. The Minutewomen haven’t strung together four straight wins since finishing off a sweep of La Salle a month ago at home. Their longest winning streak of the year is a mere five – all of which came at the Purple and Gold Invitational hosted by East Carolina the first weekend of March. There was hope last week’s walk-off win would spark UMass on a winning streak to end the season, a hope ruined with a Saturday split at George Mason.

Yet for sophomore pitcher Kiara Oliver, the wins and losses aren’t what builds momentum for this team. In her eyes, the entire season has been a giant buildup to this week’s Atlantic 10 Tournament at Sortino Field and UMass’ desire for a conference title has reached a crescendo.

“We do have momentum for sure,” Oliver said. “No matter what the outcome of the season has been or our record, we’re more hungry for a championship than we were last year. … Especially from losing last year, the momentum has been there all season pretty much. The losses leading up to now have only pushed us harder than going 21-0.”

Although UMass’ 25-20 overall record and 12-5 mark in conference play are not as polished as last year’s totals, this season has been far from a failure for the Minutewomen. They won or split every series they played against A-10 foes while having six games cancelled due to weather. They’ve lost the first game of a doubleheader and responded with a victory in the second half on six different occasions including each of their last three conference series.

Kaitlyn Stavinoha said the fact UMass has strung together consecutive losses just once since early March shows that this team understands its best softball can beat anyone, and that gives the team confidence and a feeling of momentum.

“We didn’t lose a series this year,” the senior said. “Yeah, we split a couple of times and went 2-1 a few more times, but we didn’t lose any series. We know that if we play our game, the results will take care of themselves.”

PRESSURE STILL ON — UMass is the No. 2 seed for this week’s Atlantic 10 Tournament, which starts Wednesday at 11 a.m. with three games at Sortino Field. UMass opened Thursday with the winner between No. 3 George Washington and No. 6 Saint Louis. If there are no weather delays, the championship will be played Saturday.

Coach Kristi Stefanoni said she doesn’t believe in the notion that UMass is an underdog this week on its home field or that anyone is underestimating the Minutewomen because they aren’t the No. 1 seed this season.

“I think they are after us,” Stefanoni said. “We’re home, people would love nothing more than to see us not be able to compete at home for a championship. The target is still on our back and it has been all year. People are still gunning for us, it doesn’t mean I think the target isn’t on Fordham either, but we’ve been doing a pretty good job preparing for that all year.”

The home-field advantage might not decide the winner of the tournament this week, but there are certainly perks for UMass that come with playing in Amherst. Almost everyone mentioned that the sleeping arrangements are a major bonus for the Minutewomen, but there are also some smaller benefits as well. There is no adjusting to a new environment and the game day routines aren’t disturbed either.

“Sleeping in your own bed is huge,” senior Kaycee Carbone said. “You don’t have to wake up as early, you’re not eating a hotel breakfast, you’re familiar (with the surroundings). Our field, too, we’re so familiar with how the infield plays, how the outfield is. And we’re going to have a lot of fans and families here, so that’s huge, they get pretty rowdy for us.”

ALL-CONFERENCE HONORS — UMass had three players named to the Atlantic 10 All-Conference teams, the league announced Tuesday.

Senior Erin Stacevicz was a first-team selection at shortstop after batting .358 this season, including .410 in A-10 games. Stavinoha also was a first-team pick with a team-leading .399 batting average to go along with a team-best six homers and 37 RBIs. Oliver was a second-team pitcher this season with a 2.29 ERA and 115 strikeouts in 131.2 innings pitched for UMass.

The Minutewomen also had a pair of All-Rookie team selections in catcher Danielle Ellis and pitcher Kenadee Rausch. Ellis batted .333 in league play with a .400 on-base percentage in 13 appearances for UMass in A-10 games. Rausch went 5-4 with a 3.95 ERA and 44 strikeouts over 67⅓ innings in the circle.

George Washington third baseman Jenna Cone was the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year, Fordham’s Madie Aughinbaugh was the league’s Pitcher of the Year, Rams skipper Melissa Inouye was the Coach of the Year and Gabbie Kowalik of Saint Louis was the conference’s Rookie of the Year.