Massachusetts Daily Collegian

MacDonald hitting his stride

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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What a difference a year makes.

For sophomore third baseman Jim Macdonald, last year was a bit of a struggle. But any sour memories from 2006 are long gone, as the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Cheshire, Conn. native has quickly immerged as an offensive stalwart for the Massachusetts baseball team.

Macdonald’s bat was once again on display from the very beginning of yesterday’s 9-4 victory for the Minutemen over Boston College. After falling behind 1-0 in the top of the first, Macdonald quickly put his team back into the lead – and for good, as it turned out – after he stroked a two-run double to left field for his team-leading 16th and 17th RBIs on the season.

His evolution at the plate in his second season for the Maroon and White has been a welcomed addition to the teams’ lineup, and the improvements from last year have hardly gone unnoticed.

“He’s one of those guys that you can always count on,” junior captain Bryan Garrity said. “He has been so huge for us this season, and he’s always knocking in guys in crucial situations for us. He’s definitely been one of our best hitters this year.”

Macdonald delivered again in the bottom of the fourth, as his sharp liner got through to the left side and drove in Lou Proietti for the team’s sixth run of the afternoon. Macdonald moved up to cleanup from his usual perch in the six-hole against BC, and did not disappoint. He finished the day 2-for-4, with a walk and three runs batted in.

His continued success comes as no surprise to UMass coach Mike Stone, who has been more than impressed with Macdonald and his newly-found approach at the plate.

“Jim did a real nice job, and he’s been real solid all year,” he said. “He’s worked hard on his stroke, and he’s got great balance at the plate and good extension on his swing. He widened his stance from last year and it’s paid off for him.”

“You know, it was big, and it felt really good to help the team,” Macdonald said after the game, referring to his three-RBI performance.

Macdonald must be used to that feeling by now, because he’s been driving in runs at a frantic pace. His 18 RBIs are tops on the team, and his name can be found pacing the club in almost every other major offensive category, as well – including home runs (2), total bases (36) and slugging percentage (.474). He’s also tied for the team-lead in both doubles (5) and batting average (.329) with fellow sophomore Adam Tempesta.

All of this production comes after a trying rookie campaign for Macdonald, in which he hit just .221 in 38 starts. In what has been a true breakout season, he’s already surpassed almost all of his offensive output from last year, despite having had far fewer at bats so far at this juncture of the season.

“I’m not worried about failing this season,” Macdonald said, when asked about what adjustments he’s made over the past few months. “Last year I was just a little tight, but I’m much more relaxed this season. I got a lot of at bats last year, and it gave me a lot of experience.”

“I’d say his patience has been the biggest difference this year as opposed to last,” Garrity said. “It seems like he’s been laying off the off-speed pitches that last year he might have been swinging at. Last year he was getting behind in the count, but this year he’s getting his pitches and really driving the ball.”

Macdonald – the regular designated hitter last season – has the added responsibility of manning the hot corner for the Minutemen this year. Due to the injury to Tempesta, Stone has been forced to do some reshuffling with his defense, and Macdonald has been up to the task in his new role.

“He’s handled it very well,” Garrity said. “He’s been playing very good defense for us this year, and the more games he plays the better he gets. He worked real hard in the off-season and it’s paying off for him.”

“It’s good to play the field,” Macdonald said. “You’re not really in the game when you DH, because you’re really only doing one thing. So it’s good to be able to contribute in the field as well.”

His growth all around the diamond has been what’s impressed Stone the most about his newest offensive weapon.

“He’s more mature, he’s bigger and he’s stronger than last season,” Stone said. “He’s been consistently solid and reliable and if he stays where he is now that’s great.”

With Macdonald’s rapid improvements, coupled with the fact that he still has two-plus years left donning the maroon and white, nobody knows how great of a player he can ultimately become.

One thing is for sure, though. He’s been nothing short of terrific this year, and despite his success, Macdonald remains humble and thinks his teammates should receive much of the credit.

“I haven’t been any more important than anyone else,” he said. “Everyone is important, and people have to be getting on base for me to drive in runs, and they’ve been able to do that.”

Eli Rosenswaike can be reached at [email protected] Log onto the Daily Collegian’s sports blog at dailycollegiansports.blogspot.com for more coverage of all UMass sports.

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