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Pitching key to UMass first series win of season

Starting pitching, once again, proved to be the difference in the Massachusetts baseball team’s first series win of the season.

The three main Minutemen starters took the mound this past weekend, two of which played late into the game, while the other was pulled early. The final scores correlated to each pitcher’s productivity, leading UMass to best Richmond for two-out-of-three games concluding with Sunday’s 6-3 victory.

During the first game of a doubleheader on Saturday, Nick Serino lasted seven innings in a long affair which saw the Minutemen prevail in extra innings, 7-6.

Serino was strong, but was hurt by miscues in the field. He began the first two innings by putting away the first five of six batters. Trouble came in the third, when he walked the first two batters and they later scored on a misplayed bunt by first baseman Mike Gedman.

Serino rolled through the next nine batters but got into trouble again in the sixth. A collision by outfielders Cameron Brown and Chris Cowell in the on a fly ball that would have ended the inning for the southpaw instead turned into two unearned runs.

In his fifth start of the season, the left-hander (0-3) racked up 10 strikeouts in 31 batters faced, throwing a tiring 131 total pitches. Serino left the game ineligible for the win having given up a solo home run in the seventh inning to Richmond’s Derek Boilek which tied the game.

Serino made way for Leif Sorenson out of the bullpen, who pitched six innings to tally his first win of the season, redeeming himself from a rocky start in a loss against Connecticut on Tuesday.

Team captain Jared Freini had his best outing of the season on Sunday when the hurler threw 13 strikeouts in eight frames. Despite costly walks during a shaky third inning, the senior recovered to go unblemished the rest of the game, making difficult pitches in key situations. As the pitch count continued to rise over his eight innings to an eventual 145, UMass coach Mike Stone believed his starter was actually improving.

“Jared did a great job today. He went deep into the game and he threw a lot of pitches, but I think he got into a better groove as the game went on,” Stone said. “I think he plays better when he’s tired, because he doesn’t try and overpower balls as much and that was the key today.”

Freini (1-3), the Minutemen’s opening day starter has not had the ideal season, thus far allowing a 7.04 earned run average and a .307 batting average. This was Freini’s longest start this season, having not pitched longer than six innings prior.

Gedman struggled mightily on Saturday, taking the loss in the second game of a double-header which ended on Sunday after it was postponed due to darkness on Saturday. Perhaps the squad’s most promising pitcher earlier this season, his production has fallen off in his past two starts.

On Saturday, the lefty retired four batters, getting pulled after letting up eight runs, one earned, on six hits after 37 pitches. Two bases-on-balls to leadoff hitters Adam McConnell and Boilek and back-to-back doubles led to four runs given up in the opening frame for Gedman, putting his team in a deep hole and spoiling his start. The second inning got worse as a self-defeating error allowed a run and the Spiders tacked on three more to extend the lead, 8-3.

“Gedman wasn’t sharp. He pitched a dominating game against St. Joe’s and struggled last week against Charlotte. He just wasn’t sharp today,” Stone said.

In his first outing of the season, Gedman threw a complete game, putting his team in a one-run game going into the eighth inning against a talented Oklahoma team. After going four innings in a no decision against William & Mary in his next game, Gedman then through his second complete game came against St. Joe’s, striking out a career-high 10 batters. Then, in his last start, the inconsistent hurler went four and two-thirds innings, allowing 13 hits and seven runs against Charlotte on April 4.

Stone believes that the success of his team lies in the starting pitching. It is clear that when they can keep their pitchers in the bullpen, the Minutemen are able to contend with their opponents. He believes in letting his starters fight through into late-game situations, as Serino and Freini logged a combined 276 pitches, but is careful not to overwork them.

“You try and give your team a chance to win by choosing the players who go out there and you have to be confident in what they’re doing, but you don’t want to go to the point where they’re not pitching effectively.”

Tuesday’s game will likely feature Isaac Oakley (1-1) taking the mound at Chestnut Hill against Boston College.

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

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