Minutemen still in playoff chase

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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Michael Phillis/Collegian

With one of the elite teams in the Atlantic 10 coming to Amherst this weekend, it will be imperative for the Massachusetts baseball team to continue its hot streak to stay within striking distance for a postseason spot.

The Minutemen (17-18, 9-9 A-10) welcome conference foe Richmond (26-19, 14-4 A-10) to Earl Lorden Field today at 3 p.m. for the start of a three-game set this weekend. UMass has won five straight for the first time since May of 2003, and is currently tied for seventh place in the A-10. The top six teams earn a spot in this month’s conference tournament.

The Spiders rank second in the conference, but they enter this series having lost three of their last four – all at home, and twice against Fordham. The Richmond pitching staff struggled in those four games, allowing 47 runs. Despite the recent slide, the Spiders are still one of only three teams in the conference with an overall winning record.

Strong pitching the past few weeks has led UMass to eight wins in its last 10 games. This weekend’s likely trio of starters – Chris Lloyd, Jim Cassidy and Jared Freni – have been terrific during that stretch, especially Cassidy, who has won five consecutive starts. Freni struggled a few starts ago, but was outstanding in his last outing – blanking Dayton for 6 1/3 innings en route to winning the A-10 Rookie of the Week.

Richmond hasn’t had the same fortunes on the mound, with a team ERA of 6.37 this season. In 395 1/3 innings, UR pitchers have allowed 496 hits and 199 walks – resulting in a 1.75 WHIP. Opponents have run wild against Richmond battery mates, with 97 successful steals in 116 attempts. The staff has been helped out by its defense, however, with 50 errors committed in 45 games.

Although seven games over .500, the Spiders have actually allowed more runs (317) than they’ve scored (304). Opponents have enjoyed their time in the batters box against Richmond, hitting at a .308 clip for the season.

Scoring runs haven’t been a problem, though. Richmond averages 6.8 runs per game; compared to the 5.1 runs per contest UMass has averaged. The Spider lineup is deep, with six hitters batting above .300. The team sports a .288 collective average, and with 186 walks and 80 hit batsmen, the Spiders have an impressive .387 on base percentage.

The middle of the order has terrorized opponents all year long. Junior first baseman Joe Mahoney and senior outfielder Vince Riggi have combined for 19 home runs, 91 RBIs and a .332 batting average. Mahoney is tied for first in the A-10 in homers (13) and is in third with 48 RBIs. Riggi’s .492 on base percentage ranks third in the conference, and his 38 walks are tops in the league.

UMass hasn’t been as dangerous at the dish with its .256 team average and .336 on base percentage, but the Minutemen have an ERA (5.28) more than a full run lower than Richmond – and that number has dropped steadily as of late.

These teams met three times last season in Richmond, Va., with the Spiders winning two in a wild series. Richmond scored 34 runs on 41 hits in the series, and UMass wasn’t far behind, crossing the plate 26 times on 36 hits.

The Minutemen dropped Game 1 of the series, 15-10, as the Spiders pounded out 15 hits. Richmond trailed in that game, 7-1, but exploded for 10 runs in the seventh to register the victory. UMass reliever Beau Hodges allowed eight runs in 2/3 innings, but only two were earned.

Interestingly, the Spiders scored 10 runs without the benefit of an extra base hit – using seven singles, two walks and two hit batsmen to do the damage.

The second game was just as strange, as the Minutemen failed to parlay their eight-run outburst to start the game into an easy victory. Richmond scored six runs in the first two innings to get right back into it. Trailing 9-6 with three at-bats left, the Spiders scored one run in each of the last three frames to send the game into extra innings.

Five consecutive batters reached in the top of the tenth for the Minutemen, and they pushed two runs across for the 11-9 win. Ryan Franczek enjoyed a monster day, stroking a grand slam and reaching base four times. Bryan Adamski went 2-for-6 at the plate and registered the win on the mound, pitching three strong innings in relief.

Riggi and Mahoney enjoyed a huge series, combining to go 10-for-23 at the plate, with eight runs scored, nine RBIs and six walks.

UMass coach Mike Stone and the rest of the Minutemen will have to do better in containing those two if they want better success this time around against the Spiders.

Eli Rosenswaike can be reached at [email protected]