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UMass 3, BC 1

Plourde breaks UMass strikeout record

By Marty Dobrow
Globe Correspondent / May 6, 2010

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AMHERST — Standing on the mound in the top of the first inning yesterday against Boston College, Sara Plourde could easily have been pitching for the University of Kentucky. Or Kansas. Or Kutztown State.

For Plourde, the K’s just keep on coming.

The super sophomore for the University of Massachusetts launched a 3-1 victory by striking out the side in the first. The third punchout was an Extra Special K.

When Amy Tunstall was called out to end the inning, Plourde had recorded her 466th strikeout of the year. Not only does that lead all NCAA pitchers, it breaks the 11-year-old school record of the legendary Danielle Henderson, who went on to play for the United States Olympic team.

“This is something I’ve always wanted to do since I was little: go to college, play the best I can,’’ said Plourde.

In raising her record to 33-5, Plourde had — by her high standards — an average game. She surrendered a run on five hits, and struck out nine, almost four below her average. It was still good enough for 20th-ranked UMass (34-7-1) to run its unbeaten streak to 20 games, the longest in the nation.

The key offensive blow came off the bat of batterymate Meghan Carta, who lined a two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth to snap a 1-1 tie. The home run was the team-leading 11th for Carta, who grew up in Middletown, Conn., and played summer ball with Plourde (from Bristol, Conn.) in their teenage years.

“We’ve come up together,’’ said Carta. “I’ve seen her put in so much work and time, and it’s really paid off for her.’’

“She always makes me look good,’’ said Plourde. “I always say, ‘It’s not me, it’s her.’ ’’

In establishing itself as the premier program in the Northeast under longtime coach Elaine Sortino, UMass has earned a reputation for developing stellar pitchers. In the ’90s, that meant Henderson. In the first decade of this century, the dominant force was Brandice Balschmiter.

After Balschmiter’s graduation last year, Sortino knew that Plourde was going to have to develop in a big way if UMass was to stay a nationally prominent program. As a freshman, Plourde had been used sparingly, pitching just 49 2/3 innings and going 6-1 with a 1.83 ERA.

Though Plourde doesn’t have Balschmiter’s lights-out velocity, she became a force this season. Against 22d-ranked Texas A&M March 20, Plourde struck out 22 batters in 8 2/3 innings, allowing just one run on one hit. That hit came with two outs in the ninth, though, and gave the Aggies a 1-0 victory.

A couple of weeks later on April 6, when UMass visited BC, Plourde struck out 20 in a seven-inning, 6-0 victory, allowing just one hit.

BC (15-31) plays in the tough Atlantic Coast Conference. The Eagles had seen some good pitching since the first UMass game, and seemed to adjust pretty well to Plourde. They had a couple of scoring threats, and finally came through in the sixth on an RBI single by Dani Weir that momentarily tied the game.

“I thought they were a lot more patient at the plate and they showed more discipline,’’ said Sortino.

As for her starting pitcher, Sortino shrugged her shoulders: “I thought she was OK today.’’