By Jim Fenton, The Enterprise (Brockton)
BRIDGEWATER, Mass. -- The Bridgewater State University softball team begins its quest for a 10th Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament title on Wednesday.
The fourth-seeded Bears (17-17) host fifth-seeded Salem State University (13-20) in an elimination game at Alumni Park at 4 p.m.
The winner advances to play at top-seeded Worcester State University Friday at 6 p.m. in the double-elimination portion of the tournament, which continues Saturday and Sunday.
Bridgewater State went 9-5 in the MASCAC to finish in a third-place tie. The Bears had a six-game winning streak going before dropping the regular-season finale to Westfield State, 2-1, last Saturday afternoon.
"We've had some really good solid conference wins leading up to this, good confidence builders,″ said first-year coach Lindsey Couturier. "I'm feeling really good and I think the kids are, too.″
Bridgewater State's season took a positive turn on April 12 when sophomore pitcher Natalie Sorrenti, a Bridgewater-Raynham Regional High graduate, joined the team.
Sorrenti, who was with the Bears for practices last fall, decided not to play when the season began, then rejoined the team 19 games into the season with BSU holding a 7-12 record.
In 11 games, including nine starts, Sorrenti is 8-2 with a 1.66 earned run average, nine complete games and two shutouts.
She ranks first in the MASCAC in ERA and is third in wins and was named the conference's rookie of the week on Monday after going 2-1 with a 0.70 ERA in 20 innings.
"Natalie has done great since she came back,″ said Couturier. "She has hit spots so well, which at this level is really all you need. She knows how to paint corners and you can't ask for much more.
"This is the first time she's played college softball and she has literally been thrown right into it and has been great in that role.″
The BSU offense has been productive with two hitters batting over .400.
Kacie Carvalho leads the way with a .413 average (fourth in the MASCAC), getting 38 hits in 33 games. Jenny Heller, a B-R graduate, is batting .402 (fifth in the conference) with 37 hits, including nine doubles and three home runs with 26 RBI.
"Jenny Heller is a hitter who has completely come around for us,″ said Couturier. "We've been moving her around in the field and in the beginning of the year, her bat wasn't all that consistent. But when she comes up to the plate now, I know she's going to hit the ball hard somewhere.″
Shannon Grindle, a Silver Lake Regional High graduate from Halifax, has hit nine homers to lead the MASCAC with 31 RBI and is batting .396.
"She's either going to hit it over the fence or hit it hard somewhere,″ said Couturier.
"Whenever my hitters as a whole decide to show up, we can beat anyone,″ said Couturier.
Bridgewater State split a road doubleheader with Salem State on March 30, losing the opener, 12-7, before winning the second game, 6-2, on a rainy day.
The Bears are looking for their first MASCAC tourney championship since 2014. They were stopped in the first round last year by Worcester State.
"Anything can happen,″ said Couturier. "Softball's a funny game, but I know if my kids show up, we have everything it takes to win to win the tournament. It's going to take a lot of work, it's going to take a lot, but I think we have what it takes.″