They might be right where they want to be, but the Boston University softball team will have to perform well against the University of Maryland-Baltimore County this weekend to stay there.
The Terriers (21-14, 5-1) will open a three-game series against the Retrievers (20-17, 1-5) on Saturday with a doubleheader and will finish it off with the finale on Sunday at noon. The games will pit BU against their third America East opponent of the season. They have already compiled a conference-best 5-1 record against Stony Brook University and the University at Albany, arguably the best two teams in the conference after the Terriers. If the season ended today, BU would be seeded first in the AE playoffs.
With 12 conference games remaining in the season, however, BU coach Shawn Rychcik’s crew will have to maintain their intensity to hold their spot atop the AE leader board.
“The whole season has prepared us to go into UMBC,” Rychcik said. “Overall, I think we’ve been pretty good since we went on conference play. I think our defense has been really strong. We’ve hit the ball pretty much throughout the year, and our pitchers have given us opportunities and we’ve taken advantage of them.”
The Retrievers are a difficult team to analyze based solely on their record. Their AE-worst 1-5 record does not match up with their 20 total wins on the season, the second most in AE after BU. Despite their conference woes, UMBC boasts the conference’s third-best offense, which is batting at a .263 clip.
One potential threat that the Terriers will have to address will be senior Amanda Fefel. The experienced righty boasts not only a team-best 2.39 ERA through 44.0 innings but a solid .322 BA as well. She is the team’s third-best hitter after sophomore Kaela Mason and junior Lauren O’Malley. Not only does she get the job done in the circle, but Fefel can also play first and third base if needed.
The prospect of beginning the team’s longest remaining road trip this weekend is not particularly daunting for Rychcik.
“We went to Albany last week and played in conference and took two out of three, and we opened up the first 20 games on the road,” he said. “This season has prepared us to play on the road. I don’t think there’s a huge home-field advantage in softball.”
Nevertheless, three games against a conference opponent followed by two more on the road at rival Boston College promises to be a telling stretch of games for the Terriers. With a sweep of the Retrievers, BU would bury a tough conference foe and keep themselves near perfection. On the other hand, multiple losses could put BU back into the middle of the pack in AE.
UMBC has a tendency to allow their opponents to have big first innings, which could influence how the Terriers attack at the plate early in the games. The Retrievers have allowed 33 runs in the first inning on the year, 11 more than any other inning. With a starting lineup of senior first baseman Rachel Hebert, sophomore second baseman Erica Casacci, junior centerfielder April Setterlund and sophomore shortstop Emily Roesch, all of whom are hitting over .289, the Terriers will be in good shape to grab some runs early against the Retrievers.
Of course, all signs indicate that Setterlund will continue her dominance at the plate, where she is second in the nation with a .569 batting average.
In the pitching circle, the Terriers have gotten stronger as the season has progressed. Senior hurler Cassidi Hardy and freshman counterpart Whitney Tuthill will almost certainly get starts after four days of rest. The rest of the BU pitching staff could also see time in the circle as Rychcik has tended to spread innings among his pitching staff as of late as injuries begin to subside.