Despite a combined 8-for-12 at the plate from first baseman Peter Copa and a victory in its home opener Friday evening, the Massachusetts baseball team lost two of three against Atlantic 10 foe Dayton over the weekend.
After taking an early lead in the first inning of the series finale on Sunday, Dayton (16-16, 4-2 A-10) went on to score five consecutive runs through the first five-and-a-half innings of the game, eventually claiming a 6-4 victory over the Minutemen (9-14, 3-3 A-10). Junior right-hander Rob Machado surrendered three earned runs on nine hits, walking one while striking out three over 6.2 innings.
“It’s definitely a tough pill to swallow, considering we wanted to at least come out of here with two out of the three games,” said third baseman Matt Gedman following Sunday’s game. “We were able to get the first one and played well enough to grab the last two, but it just didn’t work out for us. All we can do is look forward to our games this week and look ahead to Temple next weekend when we get back into A-10 play.”
The starting pitching wasn’t the telltale sign of defeat for UMass, even though the starters combined to deliver 11 earned runs over 18.1 innings of work. Bullpen issues and timely mistakes by the defense spelled the final outcome for the Minutemen, including three errors on Sunday. On Saturday, with a 6-4 lead heading into the top of seventh, the bullpen allowed the final four runs of the game, all of them coming off seven hits over a combined two full innings from pitchers Joe Popielarczyk and Charlie Benson, who was tabbed with his first loss on the season.
Despite the overall shaky outing from Dennis Torres on Saturday, the former walk-on who converted from third base to pitcher showed signs of consistency and even dominance in the middle frames, before succumbing to fatigue in the later innings.
“The key is repetition in your mechanics. I tend to go across my body on my follow through when I get tired,” said Torres after the game Saturday. “Coach has really been on me about that, and I feel, with more time and experience, I will be able to get better at that.”
The Lawrence, Mass. native compliments fellow pitcher and veteran among the staff, Ben Hart, for his advice and tricks to use on the mound.
“I really look to a lot guys, but especially Ben, because he really focuses on making sure his mechanics are spot on every time out there,” said Torres. “It’s advice I take to heart and I’ll continue to improve upon my own.”
Friday’s victory came from a familiar source as Glen Misho, despite delivering five walks and six hits for four earned runs, battled his way through six innings of work, throwing 121 pitches to improve to 4-1 on the season.
Another positive performance on the mound for UMass was junior Leif Sorenson, who registered a combined 4.2 innings of work over all three games in the series, allowing no earned runs on his watch, while striking out three.
The UMass lineup combined for a near .300 average for the series, delivering 38 hits, including 17 in Friday’s game. However, eight of them came off the bat of Copa, a big performance that all but assured his return to midseason form. The Malden, Mass, native combined for seven runs batted in over the three games, four of them coming when he launched a grand slam on Saturday in the fourth frame.
“I struggled in the beginning of this year, as I did last year around the same time, but I’ve been able to read the ball better with more pitchers delivered,” said Copa after Friday’s 4-for-5 performance. “I was getting a lot breaking balls in the first couple of at-bats in the series, so I decided to lay off of them until I could get something different. In my third at-bat, I waited for a fastball and when I saw it, I decided to jump on it.”
Freshman Dylan Begin went a combined 3-for-8 over the final two games, including a double in the bottom of the sixth on Sunday to continue the momentum for the Minutemen, as they tallied two in that frame to pull within one run.
“We’re always just trying to scrap, no matter how many outs in an inning,” said Begin on Sunday.
When it comes to having to make the necessary adjustments at the plate to pitching at the next level, Begin expressed his biggest challenge as, “coming up with a solid swing against breaking balls. It’s not as easy as it was to hit them in high school. That’s why I’m trying my best to get into deep counts and hopefully see a fastball and drive it. Luckily, I got into a situation [there in the sixth], where I was able to see a ball I liked and I was able to drive it deep.”
UMass will travel to Siena on Tuesday before returning home to host Boston College on Wednesday.
Scott Cournoyer can be reached at email@example.com.