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Minutemen face model opponent at UConn

A third of the way into the season, the Massachusetts baseball team continually struggles to bring all aspects of its game together.

After the pitching staff allowed only a pair of runs in the last two games of the Saint Joseph’s series, the Minutemen allowed 25 runs in three games to Charlotte as they were swept in North Carolina.

It’s clear that UMass (2-14, 1-5 Atlantic 10) still has a ways to go, with only one win taken from the last two series.

“We’re working to establish an identity at this point,” UMass coach Mike Stone said. “We still haven’t established what kind of ballclub we’re going to be yet and hopefully it will happen in a positive way very soon.”

The Minutemen can look across the diamond into their next opponent’s dugout for a blueprint for success when they face Connecticut this afternoon for a home-and-home matchup, starting at UConn.

The Huskies (16-7, 4-2 Big East) pitching staff has proved consistent, giving up only four runs in their past nine games.

UConn is coming off a three-game sweep at West Virginia, as its hitting complemented the staff, scoring a total of 32 runs against the Mountaineers. The balance of pitching and hitting on this club has resulted in seven wins in the last nine games, and 10 in the last 13.

“UConn’s an excellent team,” Stone said. “They should be ranked first in New England this week. They’re a good scrappy team. Springer killed us last year.”

Stone referred to UConn outfielder George Springer, who in two games against the Minutemen last year imposed his will as a freshman. Springer went 6-for-8 with six runs scored, eight runs batted in and three home runs, including a grand slam.

However, Springer is not the only hitter the Minutemen pitchers need to be weary of. Eight Huskies are hitting .280 or better in batting average. UConn also doesn’t just get its power from one or two players as its totaled 23 home runs, with no player claiming more than five. Seven hitters have double-digit runs batted in.

The Huskies are also one of the best teams when it comes to stolen base success, having swiped 56 bases in 65 attempts.

Not to be outdone, three starting pitchers have an earned run average below 2.11. Matt Barnes leads the staff with a 5-0 record in five starts with 35 strikeouts in 34.1 innings.

“They’re obviously strong in the areas where you need to be strong in,” Stone said. “That’s the kind of ballclub we would like to be. It’s going to be a good test for us this week – no question. We need to play well in every facet. We need to play a complete game where we execute throughout the entire ballgame.”

Sophomore Leif Sorenson will make his debut as a starter for the Minutemen. A transfer from Vermont, Sorenson’s pitched a total of three innings this season in four games, allowing five earned runs on six hits.

“[Sorenson] started during the summer, and he’d done pretty well,” Stone said. “We just haven’t gotten him enough innings, and we think he’s going to be a good pitcher. We need to give him a start at this point.” 

UMass lost to UConn in both matchups last season, the first by a score of 8-1 and the second in an 11-9 defeat. The last time the Minutemen beat the Huskies was April 10, 2007.

Pete Vasquez can be reached at pvasquez@student.umass.edu.

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