The UMBC softball team has won the past three America East championships dating back to the 2019 season. Now, the Retrievers want to make some noise in the NCAA Tournament.
UMBC enters this year’s tournament with a 31-10 overall record and 12-6 mark in the America East. The Retrievers will play No. 12 seed Duke at 2:30 p.m. EST on May 20 as part of the Durham regional. Georgia and Liberty are also in the regional. All 16 regionals are double-elimination mini-tournaments, with the winner moving on to super regionals.
In the 2019 Norman regional, UMBC lost to Oklahoma and Notre Dame. In 2020, there was no tournament due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the 2021 Tuscon regional, the Retrievers fell to Arizona and Villanova. UMBC head coach Chris Kuhlmeyer believes his group is ready to put forth a better showing than the past two tries.
“It’s the maturity level. You just look at them and you don’t have to say a lot,” Kuhlmeyer said on Glenn Clark Radio May 19. “This year, I can see it in your eyes, I can see it in your preparation, just the way that we approach practices, that they’re just ready. They’re ready to go compete against everybody. They know they deserve on this stage. They know that they’re the best team in the America East Conference and they want to represent this conference, represent this school and go out there on a national stage and prove it.”
UMBC is led by three-time America East Pitcher of the Year Courtney Coppersmith, who has posted a 0.26 ERA with 211 strikeouts and 24 walks in 107 innings this year. She has completed 13 games and saved six others. Coppersmith isn’t too shabby with the bat, either, hitting .331/.377/.504 with 13 extra-base hits.
Coppersmith is still trying to check off one box, though — winning a game in the NCAA Tournament. She narrowly missed out last year, giving up four runs in six innings in a 4-3 loss to a solid Villanova squad. Kuhlmeyer would love to see the star from York, Pa., and the rest of the senior class get on the board under the bright lights given the “blood, sweat and tears” they’ve poured into the program.
“She deserves it. These seniors deserve it,” Kuhlmeyer said. “We deserve what we hopefully can get — at least one, if not two, three, four wins here going forward and really put a nice little cap on what could potentially be her last season here and the last season of a lot of these seniors. That’s what we’re striving for, man. We’ve been working our butts off since August. This is the gift at the end, so we’ll see what happens.”
Coppersmith isn’t the only big-time performer in the circle for the Retrievers, though. She is joined by America East Rookie of the Year Kya Matter, who has posted a 0.98 ERA with 175 strikeouts and 18 walks in 107 innings. She burst onto the scene early this year when she struck out 18 in a no-hit victory against Coppin State Feb. 26 … then followed that up with a 17-strikeout performance two games later against St. John’s March 5.
Kuhlmeyer noted that it’s hard to tell that Matter is a freshman given the way she approaches her routine every day.
“She never gets rattled,” Kuhlmeyer said. “She’ll come off the field sometimes and be like, ‘Huh, oh well. They got hits,’ and just come into the dugout. She gets herself into jams and she just gets herself out of jams. She comes off the field, she goes, ‘Coach, I got myself into it, I’m going to get myself out of it.’ She just has another great mentality.”
UMBC’s top two arms are backed by an offense that has scored 170 runs in 41 games. Seniors and fifth-year players Karly Keating (.342/.388/.514), Sierra Pierce (.339/.356/.488), Anna Lonchar (.309/.409/.564) and Logan Hawker (.307/.340/.511) are leading the way on the offensive side.
Kuhlmeyer said the Retrievers were simply happy to be in Norman three years ago. They’ve got bigger goals this time around.
“We’re not just going in hoping to win a game or maybe try to play as long as we can, but I think our mentality is, ‘Hey, we come in, we play our best, we get great pitching in the circle and good defense and we can get some timely hitting, maybe that’ll lead to us getting through this,'” Kuhlmeyer said. “We can live to fight one more week and be able to stay together and play one more week, next week in the super regional.”
For more from Kuhlmeyer, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the America East Conference