The Minutemen (17-26, 11-13 Atlantic 10) welcome the Explorers (20-28, 13-11 A-10) to Earl Lorden Field on Thursday for the first game of what may be their final series of the year. This is the last series on the UMass regular season schedule and it will need to win at least two games to give itself a chance at clinching a spot in the postseason.
“Everybody knows exactly what we need to do,” UMass coach Mike Stone said. “But, we can’t go out with the idea that we need to sweep. We have to take care of the first game and go from there.”
After being swept on the road last weekend, the Minutemen fell to 10th place in the A-10. With nine other teams vying for a spot in the postseason tournament, this series is the most important of their season and Stone is relying on his strongest players to step up to the challenge.
“They know [the importance of this series]. I don’t need to tell them that,” Stone said. “I do remind them that big-game performances are something that competitors look forward to and this weekend is something that, if you’re a competitor, you enjoy playing in this situation.”
UMass needs to play better than it did last weekend when its pitching staff struggled and its hitting saw a drop-off from its recent productivity.
Starting pitchers Nick Serino (2-6), Jared Freni (2-5), and Bryan Leigh (5-5) all took losses during the series against Xavier. They combined to give up 21 runs over 20 innings pitched, while allowing 26 hits and seven walks.
The same three starters will pitch this weekend and will be backed up by a bullpen led by Leif Sorenson.
Sorenson (2-1) leads the team in earned run average (4.13) and saves (five). His last appearance came during Game 2 against the Musketeers in relief of Freni. He gave up five hits and four runs (three earned), while walking one batter and striking out another.
The Minutemen will look to get their bats heated up this weekend after being stymied by Xavier pitching in their last outing. UMass scored 44 runs in a three-game series against Dayton two weekends ago and have hit strongly throughout the month of May (eight runs per game).
Facing a talented Musketeers pitching staff, UMass managed 10 total runs in the series, getting shut out in Game 1.
Stone believes that his team will not face the same quality of pitching this weekend and hopes that they can make the necessary adjustments.
“Xavier has real good pitchers,” Stone said. “Every pitcher that they have is a real solid pitcher and we just didn’t hit them well. I don’t think that [La Salle] has the kind of pitching that Xavier had.”
The Minutemen are averaging 6.72 runs per game against conference opponents. They face a La Salle team that is 13th in the A-10 in runs allowed (407), 12th in team ERA (7.65) and ninth in opposing batting average (.326).
UMass plays its final series at home where they are more comfortable in the batter’s box. The Minutemen score over three runs more at home (9.14) than on the road (6.11).
Stone looks for his team to stay poised at home in order to give themselves a chance at a postseason berth.
“You can’t go out with the idea that you’re going to win and forget about the things you need to do to get there,” Stone said. “I don‘t even look at [our record]. I am more concerned about what we do. If we play well, then things will take care of themselves. “Hopefully, we will have some luck this weekend.”
Dan Gigliotti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org