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Pitching stepping up against A-10 foes

The pitching staff of the Massachusetts baseball team has saved its finest performances for Atlantic 10 opponents. Now, in order to launch their team into the top half of the conference standings, the UMass pitchers must silence the high-powered offense of George Washington.

As the three-game series between the Minutemen (10-21, 7-8 A-10) and the Colonials (22-19, 10-5) gets underway this afternoon at Earl Lorden Field in Amherst, the predominant matchup will feature the UMass pitchers against the deep lineup of GWU.

The Colonials are leading the A-10 with a .337 team batting average against conference opponents, which comes as no surprise as seven batters are hitting .300 or better. Senior shortstop Tom Zebroski leads his team with a .413 average and 11 home runs, while starting in all 40 games for GWU.

The Minutemen have a 7.04 team earned run average, but improve to a respectable 4.40 mark against A-10 teams. They are second in the conference with a .258 opponents batting average versus conference teams. In their last six conference games, the Minutemen staff has allowed a total of 19 runs, an average of just over three runs per game.

“The conference is where you gear all your energy and focus,” UMass coach Mike Stone said. “How you’re judged at the end of the season is by how well you do in the conference, whether or not you have a chance to go to postseason play, so it’s just more important games.”

UMass also keeps their A-10 foes in the park as they are tied for first in with only seven home runs allowed in conference games. George Washington is second in the conference having hit 46 home runs. Junior outfielder Brendon Kelliher joins Zebroski in double-digit home runs with 10. The Colonials’ top two home run hitters are also their top two hitters for average.

While GWU hits many home runs, it also strikes out often, tied for third-most strikeouts in the conference. UMass pitchers will look to add to its conference-leading 131 strikeouts and 8.86 strikeouts-per-nine innings ratio.

Appropriately, junior Nick Serino leads the Minutemen with 53 strikeouts in only 43 innings and will get the ball first in today’s opener. He’s had double-digit strikeouts in two of his last three starts and is coming off a complete game effort against Saint Louis.

Seniors Jared Freni and Bryan Leigh will pitch in Games 2 and 3. They are second and third on the ballclub in strikeouts, respectively.

“Certain situations call for a strikeout while other situations call for economizing pitches,” Stone said.

These three hurlers have shown the ability to excel in both situations.

In each of their last two starts, only Serino failed to go at least eight innings in both, as he lasted six and one-third innings against Rhode Island. The trio has pitched the last two weekend series against Rhode Island and Saint Louis and led their team to consecutive series wins. Stone attributes the team’s recent success to the emergence of his top three starting pitchers.

“The [pitchers] who pitch on the weekends are our best [pitchers] and they’ve proven that,” Stone said. “That’s why we’ve had results. Momentum and everything else really start on the mound so you have to have good pitching to have a chance to win ballgames. Fortunately, they’ve stepped things up.”

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

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