When Leif Sorenson finished the game, he finished in style.
In the opener of a three-game series with La Salle, the Massachusetts baseball team grabbed a 2-1 victory on Thursday, when closer Sorenson struck out pinch-hitter Kevin Conroy, ultimately stranding the tying run on second base.
UMass moved to 3-1 in the Atlantic 10 and 7-10 overall with the win, as La Salle fell to 3-4 in the conference. The Minutemen are now 19-10 all-time against La Salle and look to carry their past success into the final two games of the series.
Though Sorenson had his moment of stardom in the latter stages of the game, his predecessor on the mound, Dennis Torres, did most of the overall work. Torres, who pitched nearly eight innings, sent down six batters. He also allowed 10 hits, two walks and one earned run. Much of his pitching success came from his curveball, which kept the hitters out of rhythm all game.
“I felt like I was able to battle out of the jams and I got a couple big strikeouts. I was hitting my spots with my fastball and my curveball was on,” said Torres. “I was able to get a couple batters looking and made a couple guys bite on my curveball.”
Torres carried a shutout into the eighth inning and seemed poised for a complete game. But, seemingly out of nowhere, Torres found himself in a jam, with the bases loaded after back-to-back singles and walking pinch-hitter Justin Korenblatt.
With the bases loaded, Dan Klem roped a ball straight off the glove of Torres for an infield hit to even the score at 1-1.
Following the tying run, UMass coach Mike Stone decided to take out Torres and bring in Sorenson. The senior closer handled the next batter, George Smith, who grounded out to first to get UMass out of the precarious situation.
“I was a little upset to come out of the game, but we had Leif coming in and he has all the confidence in the world from me. He gets the job done about every single time,” said Torres
In the bottom of the eighth, UMass came right back and picked up the go-ahead run when outfielder Adam Picard hit a single up the middle to send home senior catcher Tom Conley. Sorenson continued his success as wouldn’t let the lead drop and, ultimately, earned his first win of the season – finishing in style with a strike out to Conroy.
“Leaf came in and did a nice job. It’s tough to use your closer in the first game of a three game series, but he got the job done,” said Stone.
While Torres and Sorenson contributed on the mound, first baseman Dylan Begin was successful from the plate, going 3-for-4 on the day. Begin, who began this year as a clean-up hitter, brought his average up to .213.
Another top performer was Conley, who drove in Ryan Cusick for the first run of the game with an RBI single up the middle. Conley also scored the game-winning run in the eighth after leading off with a double.
“The pitching has been a surprise this season. It’s been real nice even if the offense isn’t there, the pitching still gives us a chance to win with only a couple key hits just like today,” said Conley
To put more runs on the board this season, Stone said he feels he needs to play a little “small ball” to get runners on base and into scoring position. The Minutemen had a combined total of six bunts in the game, one of which was a sacrifice bunt by Rob McLam to put UMass on the board first with a 1-0 lead.
“I always like playing that way and it can really make a difference,” said Stone. “We haven’t really started to hit yet this season so you have to find some way to score runs.”
Chris Corso can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @MDC_Corso.