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VCU erupts in the eighth inning to top UMass Baseball 8-0

(Jong Man Kim/ Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts baseball team struggled at the plate, Friday allowing Virginia Commonwealth to eventually pull away in the eighth inning and beat the Minutemen 8-0. The loss marks the sixth in a row for UMass, who move to 6-15 on the year.

Despite seven strong innings from sophomore pitcher Justin Lasko, the Rams’ (17-13, 6-1 Atlantic 10) offense finally began to string together hits in the top of the eighth inning. Most of the damage came with one out, when, with a man on first VCU right fielder Alex Gransback placed a bunt down the third base line, which Lasko threw past first baseman Cooper Mrowka. That error allowed a run to score and was shortly followed by a double down the right-field line that brought home another.

Coach Mike Stone cited those two plays as the catalysts for the UMass (6-15, 2-2 A-10) collapse.

“The bunt, [Lasko] got in trouble there and threw the ball by; and the play at first base that went right down the line,” Stone said. “Those were the two situations that hurt him the most.”

Lasko stayed in and was ultimately tagged with all eight runs, though only five were earned. Reliever Christian Rosati eventually came in to get the final two outs of the inning and Scott Hovey pitched a clean ninth for the Minutemen. When asked why Lasko stayed in after the score went to 4-0, Coach Stone said, “Things went bad so fast [in the eighth] that we didn’t have a chance to get somebody loose.”

Before that fateful inning, there had been very little offense at all. VCU pitcher Sean Thompson was perfect through the first four innings, and Lasko allowed two runs on four hits over the first seven innings. A home run by Rams designated hitter Steven Carpenter and an RBI double by Gransback provided the only runs through seven innings.

The game was played in intermittent rain and a cold wind that contributed to the initial lack of offensive firepower.

“I thought early when it was moving very quickly that it wasn’t a hitter’s day, it was more of a pitcher’s day,” Stone said. “Sometimes it’s a good day to hit, sometimes it’s not.”

If UMass can take one positive thing away from the game, it was the Minutemen’s fielding. UMass infielders turned in a number of spectacular plays, from Mrowka’s diving snare on a line drive in the second inning to second baseman Jon Avallone’s sliding stop that brought a merciful end to the eighth inning. Third baseman Alec Norton made two diving stops along the third base line, including one particularly fine play that saved a run and ended the inning.

Avallone’s knowledge of the batter helped position him for the play in the eighth.

“The kid that was up [Logan Farrar] is a lefty and a good pull hitter, so knowing him and his tendencies, I was playing up the middle, maybe a shade to the other side.”

Stone called the defensive effort “crucial”, saying, “You have to play good defense, you have to get good pitching, or you have no chance of winning.”

Despite good defense and good pitching for the first seven innings, UMass was unable to back it up with offense. The Minutemen only put two men on base the entire game, on singles from Avallone and DH Mike Geannelis. No UMass runner ever advanced past second base.

Avallone expressed disappointment over the struggles at the plate.

“We were putting bad swings on the ball. Lasko pitched a great game for us and we didn’t do nearly enough for him.”

The game was UMass’ home opener, delayed over a week by New England weather. The Minutemen and Rams will face each other twice more in a three-game weekend series at Earl Lorden Field.

Thomas Haines can be reached at thaines@umass.edu.

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