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UMass maintains momentum with walk-off win

  • Quinn Breidenbach, of UMass, pitches to Providence College, Tuesday, April 30, 2019 at Sortino Field in Amherst. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Hannah Bunker, left, of UMass, forces out Emma Lee, of Providence College, at second on a hit by Skie Villani, Tuesday, April 30, 2019 at Sortino Field in Amherst. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Crista San Antonio, top, of Providence, collides with UMass shortstop Kaitlyn Stavinoha, Tuesday 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 called out. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

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

  • Hannah Bunker, left, of UMass, prepares to tag out Emma Lee, of Providence College, as she tries to steal second, Tuesday, April 30, 2019 at Sortino Field in Amherst. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Kaycee Carbone, of UMass, catches a hit by Skie Villani, of Providence College, 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, Tuesday at Sortino Field in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Kaycee Carbone, of UMass, earns a walk in the seventh inning against Providence College, Tuesday, April 30, 2019 at Sortino Field in Amherst. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

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

  • Quinn Breidenbach, of UMass, pitches to Providence College, Tuesday, April 30, 2019 at Sortino Field in Amherst. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Danielle Ellis (10), of UMass, celebrates with her teammates after her walk-off hit against Providence in the seventh inning, Tuesday at Sortino Field in Amherst. UMass won 5-4. Visit gazettenet.com for more photos. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Danielle Ellis, fourth from left, of UMass, celebrates with her teammates after her walk-off hit against Providence in the seventh inning, Tuesday, April 30, 2019 at Sortino Field in Amherst. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS



Staff Writer
Friday, May 03, 2019

AMHERST — Kaycee Carbone knew exactly what Julia Murphy was going to throw her.

With UMass down to its final strike, the senior knew she had to stick to the scouting report and not chase pitches. She battled from down 0-2 in the count to draw a walk and load the bases for freshman Danielle Ellis.

It had been a rough day for Ellis, who struck out in her first plate appearance, grounded into a double play in the second at-bat and hit a routine groundout to second base in her third. Yet the freshman strode to the plate with UMass trailing by a run in a key spot.

Ellis delivered with a two-run single up the middle that lifted the Minutewomen to a 5-4 win over Providence at Sortino Field. A nonconference game on a Tuesday wasn’t going to have a major effect on UMass’ overall postseason hopes, but the contest came on the heels of taking two out of three from Fordham and with UMass headed into the final weekend of Atlantic 10 play. The win goes a long way to helping set the right tone for the team heading into next week’s conference tournament on its home field.

“Last weekend also was huge with it being senior day and playing Fordham our rival,” Ellis said. “I feel like if we would have lost this game, it would have been a big lull for us, especially going into this last set of conference games. This was definitely huge for us because we’re just going to carry this momentum and hopefully get a sweep against George Mason.”

The Minutewomen (24-19, 11-4 Atlantic 10) head into this weekend’s series at George Mason in a much different spot than when the Patriots came to Amherst at this time last year. In 2018, UMass was protecting a perfect conference record and had already clinched the regular-season title. This season, the Minutewomen are in need of a sweep of George Mason and at least one loss by Fordham against Rhode Island to capture the conference crown and the top seed for the tournament.

In some ways, though, the position in which UMass finds itself this year is more advantageous because it is playing more desperate and hungrier. The Minutewomen have already dropped four games in conference and each one has been a snap back to reality that there isn’t an easy game on the schedule.

“It’s not a good thing that we’ve lost games, but last year it was a lot of pressure to uphold a perfect record,” Carbone said. “There’s a lot more fight and scrappiness in us and fearlessness whereas last year we were trying to sit back and protect. I don’t think we came into this season thinking that we were going to sweep everyone and have a perfect record, but it was a wake-up call each game that we dropped that we need to be on point at all times. We aren’t the same team as last year and the conference isn’t the same as it was last year.”

UMass has played in and won a wider variety of games over the past two months than it did for most of conference play last year. The Minutewomen were fairly dominant for much of last season with five of their 21 Atlantic 10 victories coming by three runs or fewer – one more than the four it ended via the run-rule. There has been a larger range this year – especially within series – of the types of wins UMass has been able to pull out.

On April 13, UMass scored twice in the sixth inning to force extras against George Washington before Madison Gimpl hit the winning single in the eighth. In the second game of that day’s doubleheader with the Colonials, the Minutewomen scored seven runs in the first inning en route to a 14-1 blowout. Just last week, UMass twice brushed off a loss in the first game of a twinbill to win the second game and earn a split.

Those are the experiences coach Kristi Stefanoni is hoping will keep her team more relaxed in tight games and not be as jumpy as the Minutewomen were in last year’s conference tournament.

“I hope if anything it gives them confidence in themselves and helps them never give up,” Stefanoni said. “Our biggest thing last year was when the pressure was on and as we got later on into the season and especially the tournament, we just got a little nervous. I’m hoping with all of these situations that have happened over this season that they’ll get over their nerves and once the conference tournament comes around, they’ll turn it on and compete.”

That is exactly what UMass did in the seventh inning Tuesday. The bats had been silent since the Minutewomen scored three runs in the first inning, but they re-discovered the plate discipline that was behind their early success. Carbone knew not to be fooled by those pitches that Murphy was baiting her to swing at with two outs and two strikes. Ellis was prepared for Murphy to lean on the same pitch that had given her success in their previous meeting at the plate.

When the ball left the infield and Erin Stacevicz came home from second to score the winning run, the Minutewomen sprinted out of the dugout to mob Ellis. And in that moment, the lesson of the season was crystalized yet again for a team hungry to return to the national postseason for the first time since 2012.

“It just gives us energy,” Carbone said. “At the beginning of today, we felt flat. Maybe not in the very first inning, but the rest of the game, we were kind of flat and just going through the motions. It’s a really good wake-up call for us that we need to be on point every single inning.”