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UMass baseball drops series against Bucknell despite strong start to weekend

Baseball practice on Garber Field on February 17. (Jessica Picard/Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts baseball team wrapped up its spring break road trip against Bucknell in Port Charlotte, Florida, winning three of the last five heading into the series.

The Minutemen (4-7) won the opener on Thursday behind an offensive explosion, before dropping the next two games to conclude the Florida trip.

Bucknell wins pitching duel

In the finale of the three-game set, the Minutemen tabbed senior pitcher Mike Geannelis to tame a Bucknell offense on a torrid pace, which had scored 35 runs in the previous five games before the weekend series.

By starting the game with five no-hit innings, Geannelis kept the Bucknell (8-8) hitters at bay for most of the game. However, his counterpart Connor Van Hoose, was dominant in his own right, holding the Minutemen to just one unearned run through 7.2 innings of work. He struck out 12 while allowing only three hits and one walk.

“Two great pitchers went at each other,” Minutemen coach Mike Stone said. “I thought Mike pitched really well, he was sharp and their pitcher was dominant in the first seven [innings] really, we were up there fighting and battling but [Van Hoose] just had dominant stuff.”

The Bison finally got some offense going in the sixth inning, scoring two runs despite not registering a hit. A walk, a hit batsman and an error loaded the bases and provided Bucknell the opportunity it would need to score the eventual game-winning run.

“The leadoff walk caused an issue,” Stone said, “It lead to them scoring that inning, that’s what it was.”

Van Hoose’s single blemish on his stat sheet was a Nolan Kessinger RBI single in the top of the seventh.

“You try to work walks, get hit by pitches, bunt for base hits and foul pitches off to make him pitch,” Stone said. “He threw a lot of pitches with a lot of deep counts because our guys battled, but there weren’t too many hits in that game, that was just one of those games when that happens.”

UMass drops offensive thriller

Conversely to Saturday’s matchup, Friday’s game produced fireworks early and often in a back-and-forth offensive battle that ended in an 11-9 Bison victory.

Bucknell pieced together a six-run rally in the top of the first and forced UMass starter Brooks Knapek from the game after just 1.0 innings pitched, forcing the Minutemen to turn to the bullpen early for the third time in four games.

“Brooks pitched a great game against Maine and we thought he was going to settle down but he threw a lot of pitches,” Stone said. “ So we needed to make a change once we got a pitcher ready to go and we went with Casey [Aubin] in the second.”

Sophomore Casey Aubin stepped in relief and provided the Minutemen with four scoreless innings, striking out four. Aubin managed to stop the bleeding and opened the door for a comeback and the UMass offense took advantage.

With a three-run fourth inning keyed by Cooper Mrowka and Kessenger, the Minutemen cut the defecit in half and then took an 8-6 lead with a four-run rally in the fifth.

“We bounced back, made some changes on the mound and had some real strong innings from Casey Aubin and really gave us a chance to bounce back and that’s what we did,” Stone said. “We hung in there, kept grinding out at-bats and came through with a lot of clutch hits, we had an opportunity to win the ballgame at the end of it.”

Once Aubin left the game in the sixth inning, however, the Bucknell lineup started hitting again and scored three runs to regain a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.

UMass had a chance to tie the game for the third time, with the tying run at the plate with no outs in the bottom of the ninth, but the offense produced three straight groundouts to end the game

UMass offense erupts for 17 runs

In the first matchup of the three-game series, the Minutemen showed the type of offensive output they are capable of with a 20-hit, 17-5 route of Bucknell this past Thursday.

Seven players registered multiple hits, highlighted with performances by Mrowka (three RBI’s), Matt Bare (three) and Brett Evangelista (four). In total, UMass mustered 30 base runners in the game.

“This showed us potential,” Stone said of Thursday’s game. “Obviously when you get outside at first you aren’t going to swing the bat well but I think we overcame that very quickly and showed a lot of potential to have a good offense, I’m encouraged.”

UMass returns to the Bay State this Tuesday when it faces Holy Cross in Worcester.

Chris Marino can be reached at cmarino@umass.edu.

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