For the Massachusetts baseball team, its upcoming weekend series against George Washington represents the hardest Atlantic 10 matchup it has for the rest of the season.
UMass coach Mike Stone doesn’t see any special significance in this, however, as he has seen his team play arguably its best baseball of the season against tough teams. After getting swept at the hands of conference-leading Charlotte in early April, the Minutemen (10-21, 7-8 A 10) turned it around, winning their last three conference series against Richmond, Rhode Island and most recently, La Salle.
“Everybody we’ve played recently has been ahead of us [in the standings],” Stone said. “So I think this is a similar situation. George Washington has done well so I expect another good test.”
The Colonials (22-19, 10-5 A 10) are no ordinary test, however. With a .310 batting average and a league-high 46 home runs in 40 games, George Washington’s high-powered offense is unparalleled league-wide. Stone is confident in his team, though, and doesn’t want his pitching staff to be overly concerned with the statistics.
“I explained to [the pitchers] that George Washington has a ballpark with a short fence – that’s why they have a lot of home runs,” Stone said. “That’s traditionally the way it is with their team. [My players] shouldn’t be so concerned about the stats they see online because it’s a bandbox they play in.”
Luckily for UMass, the series is being held at Earl Lorden Field, where the Minutemen hold a 5-4 record and the dimensions are normal. On top of playing at home, UMass has received solid pitching of late, and even better hitting. The Minutemen have scored at least 10 runs in five of its last six games.
“I think [the offense] is starting to get into a groove a little bit,” Stone said. “They’re confident and we’re seeing positive results, which only breeds more confidence.”
Perhaps nobody is more confident at the dish right now than junior Eric Fredette. After transferring from Vermont, the second baseman has fit right into the second spot in the lineup, leading the team with a .415 batting average, which is also good for third-best in the conference.
“He’s been great,” Stone said. “He’s come in and he’s a great kid with a great attitude. He wants to get better and he’s worked at it. He’s a hustler and a scrapper who has made good adjustments – he’s been a great addition to our program.”
Recently, Fredette was honored as the Atlantic 10 Player of the Week, hitting .636 with two home runs and 10 runs batted in the last five games. Senior Bryan Leigh was rewarded as the Atlantic 10 Pitcher of the Week and freshman Ryan Cusick was rewarded as the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week, marking the first time in school history when all three weekly awards were given to Minutemen.
“I think we’ve played pretty well,” Stone said. “A lot of it depends on our effort on the mound. That’s the way it is in baseball – good pitching performances and good defense gives you a chance to win. We’ll need our pitchers to step up and hopefully we’ll have a good series.”
Steve Levine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.