Make or break series for Minutemen

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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The Massachusetts baseball team and the Dayton Flyers begin a three-game set today at 2:30 p.m. in Dayton, Ohio. It is a series that could make or break either team’s chances of reaching next month’s Atlantic 10 Tournament.

UMass (12-18, 6-9 A-10) is currently tied with Dayton (17-22, 6-9 A-10) for ninth in the conference standings, and both teams must maneuver their way up to break into the top six needed to reach the tournament.

Today’s matchup will mark the first time in over three years the Minutemen have faced the Flyers. In April of 2004, the Maroon and White also traveled to Dayton for a three-game series, splitting the first two games of a doubleheader before losing the final game the next afternoon. Only seniors Travis Munsey and Bill Rankin appeared in that series from the team’s current roster.

These conference opponents first met in 1997, and have played a total of 13 times, with the Flyers holding a slim 7-6 lead. It will be imperative for the Minutemen to either take the all-time series lead or at least tie the series this weekend to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Dayton currently holds an 8-7 record at home, playing at Time Warner Cable Stadium. UMass has dropped seven of its 11 games away from home. Last season, Dayton was tough on its home field, winning 16 of 23 overall (11-4 in A-10) en route to a 33-24 record in 2006.

The Flyers enter this weekend with losses in three of their last four games, while the Minutemen have won three of their last five. UMass had played three conference series in a row at home, and will play an A-10 series on the road for the first time since the very end of March.

Dayton is led by its offense, with six hitters in the lineup sporting batting averages above .300. Catcher Myles Swartzel paces the team with a .403 average, but has only 72 at-bats to his credit. Five of his teammates are currently hitting between .312 and .319.

Regular designated hitter Jeff Mercer and outfielder Bobby Getty have powered the Flyers, slugging 11 of the team’s 23 home runs. Mercer leads the team in almost every category, including RBIs (33), home runs (7) and slugging percentage (.522).

The Flyers have a knack of reaching base, with an on-base percentage (.380) almost 100 points higher than their .284 team batting average. Their lineup has been patient at the plate, averaging over 3.5 walks per game. The team has been hit by an amazingly high 84 pitches this season, and nine players have been hit by at least six pitches.

With a lot of base runners, Dayton likes to get aggressive on the bases, attempting 54 steals – only 29 successfully – and sacrificing 38 runners over. Opponents have had a field day running on Flyers catchers, only having been caught nine times in 73 attempts. Scott Dunwoody – the primary starting catcher – has thrown out just nine of 60 would-be base stealers.

Dayton holds a slightly better team ERA (5.09) than the Minutemen (5.77) this season. The pitching staff for the Flyers is led by Quinn Haselhorst (2-3, 3.64 ERA) and Chris Rubio (5-4, 4.61 ERA).

For UMass, the starting pitching has improved as the season has gone along, especially for Jim Cassidy, who has won four consecutive starts. He leads the team with four wins and a 3.53 ERA.

On the offensive side, Adam Tempesta is the only player on UMass with an average above .300, hitting at a .330 clip. The Minutemen have hit .253 collectively.

Eli Rosenswaike can be reached at [email protected]