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Minutemen tangle with Bobcats

For the first time this season, the Massachusetts baseball team has a winning conference record after taking two out of three games at Dayton over the weekend.

“It’s great. That’s what we’re trying to do and we’ve had five great weekends in a row,” UMass coach Mike Stone said. “We’re taking it one game at a time and trying to put together a good effort.”

UMass (16-23, 11-10 Atlantic 10) plays Quinnipiac on Tuesday afternoon, its final non-conference opponent, before taking on Xavier and La Salle in its last two three-game series of the season.

“It’s another opportunity for us to build a better season and we need to give a good effort,” Stone said. “We’re only playing one game this week and we need to take advantage of the opportunity to play. I think we’ll be ready to go.”

The Bobcats (14-30, 13-11 Northeast) are tied for third place in the NEC. They are coming off a series versus Fairleigh Dickinson in which they took three out of four games.

The Minutemen currently sit tied for seventh place in the A-10 with Fordham, but only two games separate seventh and second place. Rhode Island and Saint Joseph’s share that spot with a 13-8 conference record. Saint Joseph’s overall record is 18-23, only two wins better than UMass.

Still, the Minutemen cannot afford to look past this game, knowing that its two most important conference series wait ahead.

“Hopefully we avoid that,” Stone said. “It’s something that we talk about, we remind everybody how important it is to play well everyday. We can’t dwell on that, we’re trying to stay focused and have a good ballgame.”

The Bobcats, as a team, do not hit many home runs, as Brian Monack leads them with seven home runs. Their opponents are out-homering them by 19, and they’re last in the NEC in home runs with 24, with a slugging percentage of .398.

However, small ball is not part of Quinnipiac’s game either. They are at the bottom of the NEC in sacrifice bunts with only eight, tied for last in sacrifice flies, and second to last in stolen base attempts. Like UMass, Quinnipiac has only two players with over five steals. Ryan Ullrich is 10-of-13 while Mickey Amanti is 9-of-13 in bases swiped.

No one on the Bobcats pitching staff with at least six innings pitched has an earned run average under five. As a team, their combined ERA is just under eight at 7.98, while opponents have an ERA of 4.99 against them.

For the Minutemen, sophomore Ben Hart will make his first and only start on the mound.

“He’s pitched well in relief and it’s time to give him a start,” Stone said. “We’re anxious to see what he can do.”

The two teams have met in each of the past three years, with UMass taking two of those games. In their most recent matchup on May 12, 2009, the Minutemen took an early 8-1 advantage in the first three innings and won easily, 12-5. Current senior outfielder Brian Baudinet had a home run in the game.

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

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