Softball prepares for pitchers’ duel with UMass ace

Only one pitcher in all of NCAA Division I softball has recorded more than 300 strikeouts over the course of the 2012 season. The Boston University softball team is in line to face off against that pitcher tomorrow when it takes on the University of Massachusetts.

Senior pitcher Sara Plourde of UMass has recorded 304 strikeouts in 28 appearances and 168 innings. Plourde has averaged 10.86 strikeouts per pitching appearance and about two (1.81) per inning. The second-highest strikeout total held by an NCAA pitcher is 265.

BU coach Shawn Rychcik’s approach to facing Plourde is simple – swing the bat.

“Swing the bats and swing at strikes,” Rychcik said. “She’s one of the better pitchers in the country, so we have to look for opportunities — hopefully a couple walks and base hits, and then to get the big hit. We’ll just look for something like that.”

BU (22-12, 4-2 America East) is familiar with UMass’s (19-11) ace. In the Terriers’ 2010 and 2011 seasons, the team saw Plourde and only Plourde in all four matchups with the Massachusetts rivals. The Minutewomen’s starter hurled her way to a victory over BU every time and racked up a total of 46 strikeouts along the way.

BU’s pitching rotation has accrued a total of 179 strikeouts this season – a standard number that is dwarfed by the lone effort of Plourde. But UMass maintains a cumulative ERA of 2.93 when freshman Bridget Lemire’s number are factored in, whereas the three BU pitchers have established a 2.40 ERA.

When BU traveled to Amherst on May 27 last year, UMass narrowly escaped with a win in the bottom of the seventh inning. Then-senior April Setterlund kept the Terriers in the game when she tied the score at two with a two-run homerun in the top of the seventh inning.

UMass mustered a few more hits in the bottom half of the inning and the Minutewomen ultimately came out with a 3-2 win.

This season, with the offensive capabilities of Setterlund no longer at BU’s disposal, the team will have to seek new ways to put runs on the board.

“We’re not going to get into a 9-8 with them,” Rychcik said. “So from that standpoint, anything we get out of them we’re going to ultimately have to cash in.”

The result of the matchup against UMass should be a significant indicator as to how much progress BU has made up to this point in the season. The upcoming weekend will be one of the toughest for the Terriers thus far, as they take on the America East leading the University of Albany.

After having an extra day off due to the cancellation of Sunday’s game against the University of Maine, the Terriers have returned to practice. Rychcik said the things he targeted in practice should be beneficial for both the game against UMass and the series against Albany.

“We just worked on a few different things that we might see in-game,” Rychcik said. “Albany and UMass – we’re kind of preparing for both because, in a way, they have some similarities.”

Rychcik said the proximity of ability as well as location between BU and UMass has led to the development of a noteworthy rivalry.

“They’re a good rival and one of the best teams in the Northeast year in and year out,” he said. “It’s a team that we like to have, and obviously with a win against them, we’d have a bunch of momentum going into the weekend.”

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