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March 22, 2017

Bullpen to blame in UMass losses

In a 15-11 slugfest, it was the bullpen of the Massachusetts baseball team which exposed their season-long struggles.

Three different relievers combined to surrender nine runs in just over three innings to give Connecticut the win on Wednesday afternoon.

The game started well enough for the Minutemen (2-16, 1-5 Atlantic 10), who jumped out to a 10-4 lead heading into the fifth inning.

Starting pitcher Isaac Oakley, to that point, had limited the high-powered Huskies offense to four runs over four innings of work. He began the fifth by allowing the first two hitters to reach base, triggering UMass coach Mike Stone to make a pitching change.

Stone handed the ball to sophomore Ben Hart, giving him a six-run lead to protect. Hart proceeded to allow a single and a triple to plate both inherited runners. The inning was capped off by a wild pitch, which allowed a third Huskies player to score, as UConn cut the deficit to 10-8.

After the Minutemen got a run back in the bottom of the inning, senior Bryan Leigh was given the next opportunity to maintain a lead. He pitched a scoreless sixth inning, giving reason to believe that the Minutemen were on their way to victory.

But then came the seventh inning.

Leigh tried for his second-straight effective inning. Instead, he was greeted with a leadoff single, a walk, and a three-run home run that tied the back-and-forth affair at 11-11. Before he could recover, the next batter took him deep to give the Huskies a 12-11 advantage.

Junior Charlie Benson did not fare much better.

He opened the eighth inning by relinquishing a home run, a double, and a two-run home run. After all the dust had settled, UConn led 15-11, having outscored UMass 11-1 in the final five innings of the game.

The final two relievers for the Huskies threw a combined four scoreless innings.

Leigh got the loss in a game that featured nine total home runs, five by Husky hitters.

“It was just a good hitting day, I guess,” Leigh said. “I didn’t make many pitches and that hurt us.”

Senior Jared Freni was the lone bright spot out of the bullpen, tossing the final 1.2 innings without allowing a run.

It would be easy to blame the 88-degree temperature as a reason why so many balls were jumping off the bats and leaving Earl Lorden Field. However, a mirror image occurred two days ago in Connecticut, when the UMass bullpen gave up three home runs en route to a 10-2 defeat.

“You have to give [UConn] credit,” Stone said. “They hit the ball hard. Yesterday they hit a bunch of home runs and the same thing [happened] today. [We have] some good [pitchers] out there and they’re trying hard. They just didn’t have too much success.”

In the short two-game series versus UConn, UMass relievers have yielded a total of 15 runs on 18 hits, including seven home runs.

“At this point, we’re being challenged,” Stone said. “We just need to hang in there and keep fighting.”

However, Stone knows it’s just a matter of getting on the mound with his pitchers and seeing batters.

“They need to get work, get the experience. Our guys will come around. Those guys are the guys we plan to have as relievers for the year, so we have to stick with them.”

Leigh knows that in order to get better, he cannot delve too much into the outing Wednesday.

“I have a pretty short memory, so I’ll pretty much forget it after I leave here,” Leigh said. “We just have to get back to practice tomorrow.”

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

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