Rankin goes beyond the stats

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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In baseball, statistics are sacred. But sometimes the numbers fail to tell the whole story.

In the case of Bill Rankin, a fifth-year senior for the Massachusetts baseball team, this definitely holds true.

If you want to know how important the left-handed center fielder is to the Minutemen, don’t look at the .160 batting average – or any other number, for that matter – but rather ask any one of his teammates about Rankin’s many contributions.

“He always gets the job done whenever he’s called upon,” junior captain Bryan Garrity said. “He does all the little things that often go unnoticed, such as moving guys over or dropping a bunt down. Even when he’s struggling with the bat, he finds ways to [get on-base], whether it’s by drawing a walk or getting hit by a pitch.”

“Bill brings it everyday, and he works hard day in and day out,” added senior captain Travis Munsey. “If things don’t go his way, he doesn’t mope or hang his head. He’s definitely a good leader and even greater teammate.”

Rankin certainly didn’t need to worry about going unnoticed this weekend against George Washington. Then again, when you lay-out and make a full-extension diving catch with the bases loaded – in a tie game, no less – you don’t have to worry about flying under the radar.

The catch came in the first game of the doubleheader on Saturday, with the score tied, 1-1, in the top of the sixth inning. UMass pitcher Jim Cassidy cruised through the first five innings, but ran into serious trouble in the sixth. After two hit batsmen and an error on first baseman Bryan Adamski, Cassidy walked in a run to give the Colonials a 2-1 edge.

With no outs and the bases still loaded, Chris Marsicano’s deep drive to right-center field threatened to break the game wide open for the Colonials. Rankin wasn’t about to let that happen.

“You know, it’s one of those fun things to do,” Rankin said with a grin. “You don’t even really think about it when the ball is hit. I just saw the ball off the bat, got a pretty good jump, and I was able to cover enough ground to get there and make a bid. Thankfully, I was able to put it in the mitt. After I caught it, I got back up and got the ball in as fast as I could.”

Rankin’s catch shocked everybody, especially George Washington’s runner on third, Charlie Kruer.

Assuming the ball was going to hit the gap for a bases-clearing double, Kruer began trotting home. By the time he finally realized that Rankin made the catch, it was much too late to tag up, as Rankin already fired the ball back into the infield.

“That was huge,” UMass coach Mike Stone said. “It was just a tremendous catch. When it was first hit it looked like it would be a double, and the baserunner at third thought it was too. He came out of nowhere and made a great play.

“I don’t know what more I can say about it,” Stone added laughing.

Ultimately the Colonials added two more runs in the inning, extending their lead to three.

But if Rankin’s catch in the sixth wasn’t enough, the senior came through twice more – without the benefit of a hit – once in the seventh and again in the eighth inning to help lead the UMass comeback.

After Garrity led off the seventh with a single up the middle and advanced to third on a failed pickoff attempt, Rankin drove him in with a groundout to second base. In a three-run eighth for the Minutemen, Rankin added to his RBI total — without even swinging the bat – after he was hit by his team-leading seventh pitch of the season, scoring Adamski to cut the lead to one.

Rankin knows he’s been struggling at the dish, but continues to do whatever he can to help the team, even if it means getting drilled by a few fastballs.

“I’ve been struggling to get it going,” he said. “You come out here and want to help the team as much as you can, and that’s what’s been so frustrating. I’ve just been doing whatever I can, getting guys over, drawing walks and getting hit by pitches. I’m just trying my best, doing whatever it takes to help out.”

“Bill brings a lot of leadership and experience to this team,” Garrity said. “He’s always keeping the intensity up and he’s done a great job motivating everyone on the team. He never complains and he does all the things we need him to do. That’s the kind of teammate you’re looking for – someone you can depend on.”

While Stone hopes to see Rankin pick up his production offensively, he knows he can depend on just about everything else from his senior center fielder.

“Every day for five years, his effort has been tremendous,” he said. “He comes to every game and every practice with a great attitude and it’s been a pleasure coaching him for five years. He’s the kind of kid who gives his best everyday. You can’t ask for anything more than that.”

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.