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UMass outlasts Northeastern

In a back-and-forth game that featured five lead changes, the Massachusetts baseball team outlasted Northeastern to pull out an 8-6 victory on Wednesday afternoon.

The bullpen pitched 7.2 innings, giving up two runs, as the early Huskies offense subsided by the sixth inning.

UMass jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, beginning the game with three straight hits and a sacrifice fly. But Northeastern bounced back in the top half of the second inning when it roughed up starting pitcher Aaron Zaleznik for four runs, and chased him before he could record the second out in the inning.

“All these games are important so we need to put our best people on the mound and play to win,” UMass coach Mike Stone said. “[Zaleznik] wasn’t giving us a chance to win at that point.”

The Minutemen offense came through with three runs in the bottom of the inning to reclaim the lead, 5-4, with help from Kyle Multner (three home runs) who hit a two-run home run to left field. The Huskies snatched the lead back in the top of the fifth, but lost it again in the bottom half. Corey Volpicelli had a two-run single following a hit batsmen and a balk. UMass maintained that lead for the rest of the game.

“We had a good clutch hit by Volpicelli,” Stone said. “We didn’t swing the bats that well, but we hung in there offensively. It wasn’t our best day, but it was good enough.”

Sophomore Joe Popielarczyk came into the game in the sixth inning and steadied the game from there. He pitched the final four innings, and allowed one hit and struck out five Huskies batters, including three in the ninth inning to seal the win for the Minutemen.

“He did a real good job at the end of the game,” Stone said. “He had his slider going, his out pitch, and he shut them down. He’s had only one bad outing this year but he pitched very effectively today and it was good to see that.”

Ryan Cusick and Eric Fredette, the first two hitters in the lineup, had three hits each to spark the UMass offense.

The Minutemen will now travel to Dayton for a weekend series against the defending regular season Atlantic 10 champions.

The Flyers(19-26, 8-10) currently holds the 10th place in the A-10 standings. They are positioned right behind UMass.

Dayton is coming off a loss to Ohio on Tuesday and a weekend series loss to Xavier. It is 3-3 in conference series this year, but 2-0 at home, including home wins against George Washington and Fordham.

Dayton has not lost a three-game series at home since March 28 and 29 2008. It currently boasts 10 series wins in a row at home. UMass will try to end that streak this upcoming weekend.

“I think everybody plays better at home,” Stone said. “Every year’s different, the last time we went there [in 2007], we swept them. But this is a different team so we need to take it one game at a time and get after them.”

UMass and Dayton did not play each other in the regular season last year, but met in the A-10 playoffs, when Dayton beat then-No. 4 seed UMass, 9-5.  Pitcher Nick Serino could not get past the second inning in that game, surrendering four runs to take the loss.

This year, Dayton is in the middle of the Atlantic-10 standings and is in the middle of most statistical categories in the conference, whether it’s on the offensive, pitching, or defensive side of the game.

“[The Flyers] have always impressed me as being a very fundamentally sound team,” Stone said. “They have good pitching and they’re scrappy.”

Brian Blasik leads the Flyers with a .351 batting average and 60 hits, and Aaron Dunsmore has a team-high nine home runs.

Eight different hitters have at least five stolen bases to their name. UMass has two.

The usual three weekend starting pitchers will try to control the pace of the series. Nick Serino gets the start on Friday while Jared Freni and Bryan Leigh finish off the weekend showdown.

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

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