UMass baseball finishes season with sweep over George Mason
Nine games below .500 is not the way one would like to finish any baseball season. The Massachusetts baseball team finished a year that was filled with underperformances at the plate, on the mound, or both, and could never fully right the ship and contend for an Atlantic 10 tournament berth.
But there was a silver lining on Senior weekend for the Minutemen, who won the season finale 4-2 Saturday afternoon. UMass (18-27, 11-13 A-10) completed a three-game series sweep over George Mason (19-35, 7-17 A-10) at Earl Lorden Field this past weekend, thanks in large part to dominant pitching performances by the weekend staff.
“There were times when we were very good, and there were times where we failed to score runs,” UMass coach Mike Stone said of the 29th team he’s coached in Amherst. “We played well at home. I wouldn’t put this team in any particular category, but you feel good about the way things finished up. Our seniors had a good experience. Our players for the most part had a good experience and that’s a positive thing.”
Senior pitcher Brandon Walsh went out on a high note in his final start at the collegiate level on Saturday. Walsh struck out a career-high 12 batters in eight innings, conceding four hits and two runs to the Patriots in the victory.
“I thought they did a great job,” Stone said of his pitching staff. “We didn’t score a lot of runs, but our starting pitching was outstanding. The relief pitching that we got from our senior pitchers was great as well. Because it was their last weekend, it was really nice that the scenario worked out where all five seniors had a contribution in the success of the weekend. It really couldn’t have worked out any better in terms of our staff, our seniors on that staff and the weekend was a great way to finish up.”
Since coming back from a team-related infraction that resulted in a 20-game suspension to start the 2016 campaign, the North Andover native has been dominant. Walsh finished his UMass career with an earned run average of 3.56 in six starts this season, winning five of them and striking out 54 batters, leading the team in that category.
John Jennings, the senior catcher who led the team in home runs, hit his ninth and final round-tripper of the season to give UMass a 2-0 they would not relinquish. Jennings finished his senior season with a .298 batting average and a team-leading 32 runs batted in.
Mike Geannelis’s RBI double, his 14th RBI of the season, and a Cooper Mrowka one-run single provided the Minutemen with the game-winner and insurance runs.
UMass sweeps Thursday, Friday battles with Patriots
Friday’s game was all about the starting pitching from both sides, as UMass pulled out 2-1 victory.
George Mason jumped out to a 1-0 advantage after the first inning thanks to three straight two-out singles.
Freshman Justin Lasko would calm down quickly thereafter, permitting eight hits and the lone first-inning run through seven innings. Lasko walked two and struck out six Patriots, finishing the season with four victories and a 4.19 ERA.
George Mason’s starting pitcher Joe Williams had a solid performance of his own going six innings, only surrendering two runs and three hits.
Brett Evangelista plated the eventual game-winning run in Jennings after Mrowka scored the tying run on a Ryan Lever double.
Evan Mackintosh notched his seventh save of the season in the victory.
Thursday’s contest, much like the rest of the weekend, was a game decided by pitching.
After a Vinny Scifo single drove in Dylan Morris to even the score with George Mason 1-1 in the first inning, both Ryan Moloney (seven innings, one hit, one run) and Tim Cassidy (two innings, no runs, no hits) kept the Patriots off the scoreboard.
The two were rewarded for their dominant efforts on the mound in the Minutemen half of the ninth. With Geannelis 90 feet from victory, Mrowka dunked a single into shallow center field to score Geannelis and walk-off with a 2-1 victory to begin the series.
“He has improved tremendously in the last month – he’s really stepped it up,” Stone said of Mrowka. “It takes a while for freshman to adjust. I was real confident, and I know he was too. You can tell when somebody looks confident when they come to the plate with a chance to win the ball game. I think he’s got a chance to be a real good ball player for us and a real solid player for years to come.”
Moloney finishes his impressive junior season with a 3.49 ERA, 41 strikeouts and two complete game performances in 11 starts.
Stone will return to Amherst to coach his 30th UMass team next season. At 61 years old, the longtime coach can’t envision coaching past 65.
“Four (years) or less,” Stone said regarding how much longer he wishes to coach. “I can’t see myself coaching beyond 65. I’d say probably four years or less looking at it now.”
Kyle DaLuz can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @Kyle_DaLuz.