Minutemen return home

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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Courtesy UMass Media Relations

After a 16-game road trip and a number of postponements, the Massachusetts baseball team finally gets to play at Earl Lorden Field today for the start of a three-game set against Rhode Island.

The Minutemen (5-11, 2-4 A-10) will start senior Chris Lloyd in today’s 3 p.m. start time, while freshman Jared Freni gets the call tomorrow. Sunday’s starter has yet to be determined.

Rhode Island (6-16, 3-3 A-10) comes into Amherst winners of four straight, including a three-game series sweep against a solid Duquesne team, also from the A-10. Despite completing that sweep on the road, URI has won just 5 of its 16 matchups away from home.

UMass coach Mike Stone enters this weekend with 499 career wins at the helm for the Maroon and White, but he’s more excited about finally being able to play in Amherst more than anything else.

“The only time I think about [the 500th win] is when people mention it to me,” he said. “I really don’t spend much time thinking about it. It’s more important for me to put together a good team and a good season each year.

“It’ll be great [to play at home],” he added. “We’ve played 16 games on the road, and we haven’t even practiced on the field yet. The snow is melting and we’re planning on practicing there [Thursday], so that will be great.”

Despite holding a decisive edge in career head-to-head meetings between the two schools, the Minutemen had a difficult time against the Rams last year – losing all three matchups, albeit by only a total of five runs. Even with that sweep over the Minutemen last year in the final series of the season, URI still trails UMass 56 to 98 in the 101-year rivalry.

Asked whether the suddenly hot play of the Rams or last season’s sweep concerned him at all, Stone was quite clear about how much – or how little – either of that mattered to him this weekend.

“I don’t really focus or dwell on what the other teams are doing,” he said. “If we do what we’re supposed to be doing, we feel we will be in good shape. We’re a different ball club from last year and we feel we’re improved. Things change, so I’m not concerned about that as far as how the two teams will do against each other this year. It’s a new season, a new year and a clean slate. We’ll see how it goes.”

Unlike the Rams, the Minutemen aren’t entering the series with an extended winning streak, but their 4-3 win over Holy Cross on Tuesday did snap a five-game skid and has the team going in a positive direction. Stone is hoping for more of the same this weekend.

“We just need to play well, get good pitching and play good defense,” he said. “We need to play hard, be focused and execute.”

The UMass pitching staff faces a solid, veteran Rams lineup, featuring five upperclassmen with batting averages above .285 – including seniors Eric Larson and Ryan Cunningham who are both hitting better than .350. URI has hit at a .282 clip collectively, compared to the .265 team average compiled by the Minutemen. Despite the lower team average and some of their recent struggles at the plate, the Minutemen – similar to URI – still feature four hitters hitting greater than .300.

Jim MacDonald has led the offensive attack for the Minutemen so far this season, in what has been a bit of a revelation. The sophomore third baseman hit just .221 last year with 16 RBIs in his 38 starts, and in just 14 starts in 2007, he already has a team-high 14 RBIs to go along with his .322 batting average – which is just one point behind team-leader Adam Tempesta.

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