With the game knotted at six runs apiece in the top of the ninth inning, UMass sophomore Jeff Cavanaro doubled down the right field line and later scored on an error by Bobcats shortstop Dan Schmidt to lead the Minutemen (1-2) to a one-run victory.
“It was a real good feeling to have a chance to come back in the last ballgame,” UMass coach Mike Stone said in a phone interview. “We really got better each day and that’s what I feel we had to do.”
Senior UMass pitcher and transfer Jordan Pace picked up his first win of the season after 1.1 innings of scoreless relief in the victory. The losing pitcher for Ohio (1-7) was Brett Barber, who pitched 3.2 innings of relief, allowing three hits and one run.
Minuteman leadoff hitter Ryan Cusick was a perfect 5-for-5 at the plate with two runs scored, one RBI and a stolen base. Rob McLam had two hits and three RBIs for UMass, two coming on a clutch double in the second inning as the Minutemen grabbed an early 4-1 lead.
Stone was happy with Cusick’s performance at the top of the lineup.
“When your leadoff guy is on base all the time that’s exactly what you want,” Stone said.
Both starters had rough days for their teams as both allowed six earned runs in their short outings. UMass sophomore Andrew Grant lasted just 3.2 innings and the Bobcats’ Connor Sitz lasted four innings.
Tennessee hands UMass second consecutive defeat
Tennessee grabbed a two-run lead on two bunts that were converted into go-ahead runs in the top of the fifth inning to make the difference in a 6-4 victory Saturday afternoon that handed UMass its second consecutive loss of the season.
Tennessee (4-7) scored the first four runs of the game, with two coming on back-to-back singles by Taylor Smart and Will Maddox in the top of the second inning.
The Minutemen made their mark on the scoreboard with a couple of RBI singles in the second and third innings. UMass evened the score at four when Cusick drew a walk with the bases loaded in the third.
Pierce Bily’s double put runners on second and third for the Volunteers with one out in the top of the fifth inning. Parker Wormsley used his speed to drop down a bunt single for a hit, sending David Houser to the plate. A sacrifice squeeze bunt by Jason Manis gave Tennessee an insurance run.
Volunteers pitcher Blake Thomas grabbed the win pitching two innings of scoreless relief, while UMass starting pitcher Conor LeBlanc was handed the loss after allowing six runs on eight hits
A notable relief performance for UMass came from Jordan Pace, who threw 4.1 innings of relief, striking out six batters and allowing just one hit.
“Our relief staff did a great job this weekend,” Stone said. “Jordan Pace did a nice job and was able to shut the door against Ohio and keep us in the game against Tennessee.”
Minutemen fall in opener to Notre Dame
The Minutemen dropped their season opener to Notre Dame, 9-4, in the first game of the 2013 Irish Classic Friday afternoon.
With the game tied at four, Fighting Irish (8-2) first baseman Trey Mancini hit a three-run blast in the fourth inning to push the game out of reach for UMass.
The Minutemen trailed 4-1 at the end of the third, but used a two-out hitting barrage to plate three in the top of the fourth to tie the score.
Relief pitcher Matt Ternowchek grabbed his first victory of the season for Notre Dame, tossing five scoreless innings while only allowing one hit. D.J. Jauss was handed the loss in his UMass debut, allowing four earned runs in his four innings pitched on eight hits and three walks.
Stone acknowledged the shortcomings in the starting pitching, but is hopeful it will improve.
“Our starting pitching needs to get a lot better,” Stone said. “But we really think that that is going to happen the next time out.”
The Minutemen scored the first run of the game when freshman Brandon Walsh scored on a fielder’s choice in the top of the second. Walsh finished 2-for-4 with a base hit and a triple in his collegiate debut with UMass.
Notre Dame countered right away in the bottom of the inning with a four-run rally. Catcher Forrest Johnson hit a double in the gap with the bases loaded that cleared the bases. Later in the inning, the junior scored on a sacrifice fly, giving the Fighting Irish an early 4-1 lead.
The Minutemen begin an eight-game road trip in Beaumont, Tx., when they take on Lamar in a four-game series on Friday.
Chris Corso can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @MDC_Corso.