April 16, 2014

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Minutemen start season winless through nine games

The Massachusetts baseball team endured a long road trip this week and on Sunday, it got longer.

UMass (0-9) was swept in three separate series over the past 10 days, concluding in a 17-13 loss at William & Mary. In their first action of the season, the Minutemen had no answer for the strong bats of Oklahoma State and played formidably in two games against No. 13 Oklahoma. Their bats came alive this past weekend against the Tribe (13-6), only to come up short on the scoreboard.

“Things didn’t go our way today as much as we hoped, but offensively we’re starting to get more comfortable,” UMass coach Mike Stone said. “We’re getting more comfortable at the plate and defensively we’re playing well.”

A seven-run UMass lead evaporated in the sixth inning of Sunday’s game as Chris Forsten’s go-ahead grand slam off of Brian Leigh (L, 0-2) altered the numbers on the scoreboard in William & Mary’s favor, 9-8. Forsten was 4-for-5 on the day, recording a school record-tying eight RBIs. The Tribe then used an eight-run seventh inning to capture the lead for good.

After a one-out triple by Ryan Williams and an RBI ground-out by Sean Aitken gave William & Mary an early 1-0 lead in the second inning, the Minutemen responded with eight runs in the third. Four of those runs were accounted for by Kyle Multner, beginning with a lead-off single and a run and ending on a grand slam to put UMass up 8-1. Multner finished 4-for-5 with three runs and five RBIs.

The eight runs in the third inning by the Minutemen were more than they totaled in both series against Oklahoma or Oklahoma State, and more than they had driven in against William & Mary in their previous two games.

An RBI single by Matt Gedman in the top of the seventh evened up the score again until the Tribe exploded for eight more runs off of seven hits in the bottom half, regaining the lead 17-9.

The Minutemen made a last-ditch effort to come back in their final frame, going deep three times to cut the deficit in half. Peter Copa hit a solo shot off of William & Mary closer Tyler Trexell with one out. Two batters later, Tom Conley belted a two-run blast, followed by Mutner’s second home run of the day. With two outs and no one on, however, Trexell struck out Bryan Boudinet to end the rally and an unsuccessful UMass road trip.

The 13 UMass runs were four less than they scored in their first eight games this season and more than they accounted for in their six games in the state of Oklahoma.

Starter Mike Gedman (5.52 ERA) pitched four innings, giving up four earned runs on seven hits and two walks. He left the game with an 8-3 lead in place of Leigh, who struggled in his third appearance this season.

After giving up a leadoff double and single in the bottom of the fifth inning, Gedman was moved to the designated hitter and Leigh inherited those runners. Leigh gave up a single to Forsten but managed to force a ground-out and a double-play to limit the damage. Leigh pitched all of the sixth inning, giving up the lead, and was relieved by Ron Wallace in the bottom of the seventh with runners on second and third.

“We need to make meaningful pitches in meaningful situations. When it’s a nip-and-tuck battle, like it was today, we need to get used to being in those situations and execute,” Stone said.

The Minutemen needed four different pitchers to get out of the home seventh and passed through six hurlers on the afternoon.

The 17 runs allowed are the second most UMass has given up this season, losing in a 20-1 drubbing to the Cowboys in Stillwater, Okla., in their third game of the season. During that four-game series, the Minutemen were outscored 46-4, including losses of 10-1 and 11-0.

UMass played more competitively against Oklahoma, losing two contests (4-2 and 8-4), and have played better with each series this season. Coach Stone says that it is normal for a team to show some signs of lagging at the onset of a season.

“It takes about 10 games before you’re ready to really feel comfortable as a [player],” Stone said. “This spring trip schedule was a tough schedule, but we can benefit from it.”

The Minutemen take the field again on Wednesday in their home-opener against Hartford.

Dan Gigliotti can be reached at dgigliot@student.umass.edu.

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