After winning seven of its previous eight games, the Massachusetts baseball team was cooled by division rival Xavier.
The series proved to be a major bump in the road for the Minutemen (17-26, 11-
13 Atlantic 10), who were surging towards an A-10 playoff berth. With three games remaining against La Salle, UMass still has a chance to secure one of the six playoff spots.
“We didn’t get it done this weekend, but we’re fortunate to still be alive,” UMass coach Mike Stone said. “We just have to play better.”
After two convincing victories against Dayton and Quinnipiac, UMass did just the opposite to start the series against Xavier (22-30, 15-9 A 10) last Friday with a 9-0 loss.
The Minutemen did not muster any offense against Xavier starter Tommy Shirley, who threw eight scoreless innings and struck out four. UMass starter Nick Serino took the loss, allowing eight runs (six earned) and in 6.2 innings.
The following day was not much better for the Minutemen, who lost 11-6. UMass pitcher Jared Freni turned in a poor start for the second straight day, allowing seven runs and 11 hits in five and one third innings. Xavier’s starter, John Richard allowed six runs in the same amount of innings as Freni.
UMass first touched up Richard in the fourth inning by scoring three runs to tie the game at 3-3. Sophomore Tom Conley highlighted the rally with a two-out, two-run single before junior Kyle Multner flied out to end the inning.
Despite putting his team in a three-run deficit in the first inning, Freni settled down by delivering four consecutive scoreless innings. However, after UMass took a 6-3 lead in the top of the sixth, Freni faltered in the bottom half of the frame, allowing Xavier to score four runs before being relieved by sophomore Leif Sorenson. Sorenson also struggled, giving up four runs (three earned) in two innings. One batter no UMass pitcher could get out was first baseman Ben Thomas, who went 3-3 with a home run and five RBI.
Unlike UMass, Xavier’s bullpen flourished in the game after relieving Richard by throwing a combined 2.2 scoreless innings.
Sunday represented the final game of the series and ultimately left the Minutemen on the losing side of a 6-4 score. Senior Brian Leigh pitched eight innings and allowed six runs (two earned). UMass committed four errors in the game that they could not make up for.
“The [errors] certainly didn’t help,” Stone said. “All you have to do is look at the box score to see how that turned out.”
It did not turn out well for UMass. Taking a 4-3 lead into the bottom of the seventh, the wheels fell off for the Minutemen when they allowed three unearned runs that stemmed from a costly throwing error from second baseman Eric Fredette.
“It was unfortunate the way it all played out because Leigh pitched a good game and we did a few things to take the lead and then we saw it disappear on us,” Stone said.
Although very disheartening, getting swept by Xavier does not mean the end of the season for UMass. The Minutemen still have three games remaining against La Salle which will decide their playoff (or non-playoff) destiny.
“Obviously we’re still alive and we need to have a good weekend and play well,” Stone said. “We can’t focus on winning the games because we need to focus on execution. We feel that good things happen when you take [the game] inning by inning instead of worrying about the result. We didn’t get it done this weekend but we’re fortunate to still be alive.”
Steve Levine can be reached at email@example.com.