Spiders crawl on UMass

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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A crazy ninth-inning comeback, a walk-off victory, a three-run bomb and an ejection; this weekend’s series between the Massachusetts baseball team and the Richmond Spiders had it all.

But after the dust settled on the wild weekend, the Minutemen (18-20, 10-11 Atlantic 10) ended up falling further behind in the race for the final playoff spot in the A-10, dropping two-of-three from the Spiders (28-20, 16-5 A-10) at Earl Lorden Field.

“When you win the first game and end up losing [the series] it’s going to be disappointing,” Garrity said. “They have one of the better teams in our conference, and we showed we can play with them. It just would have been nice to take two of three from them.”

Friday’s game had the most drama. As UMass starter Chris Lloyd kept tossing scoreless innings, the Minutemen scored a run in the third and fourth to give him the lead. They added two insurance runs in the eighth, and Lloyd trotted to the mound in the ninth looking for the shutout.

After retiring 18 of the previous 19 hitters, Lloyd got into trouble to begin the ninth – walking Vince Riggi and allowing Hank Coogan to reach after making a throwing error on his bunt attempt. With runners on first and third and nobody out, UMass coach Mike Stone walked to the mound, but elected to keep in Lloyd to face outfielder Joe White.

With one swing of the bat, White cut the lead to one and sent Stone right back to the mound to pull Lloyd, as he laced the 2-2 pitch over the right field wall for his first home run of the season.

Bryan Adamski replaced Lloyd, and the first batter he faced – Matt McKenna – reached on an error by third baseman Ryan Franczek. After a sacrifice moved him to second for the first out, McKenna tagged up to third on the deep fly ball to left-center by Andrew Justice. That tag-up loomed large, as it allowed McKenna to score on the infield single by Benji Marshall – tying the game at 4-4.

UMass had a chance in the bottom of the ninth, loading the bases after a double and two consecutive walks. With the bases loaded and two down, Spiders closer Brian Alas struck out Garrity on a full count so send the game to extra innings.

After Adamski took care of the side in order in the tenth, the Minutemen had another opportunity to close out the ball game – and this time, they delivered. Bill Rankin led off the inning with a single up the middle, and was sacrificed to second by Brian Baudinet. Travis Munsey then pounced on the first offering from Alas, singling up the middle – and scoring a hustling Rankin for the game’s winning run. Rankin was mobbed at home plate by his teammates.

“It was a great win for us,” UMass coach Mike Stone said. “It was just unfortunate that we had to win in 10 innings.”

Saturday’s contest was a little more tame, with the Spiders taking a 3-1 decision on the strength of a three-run blast by star first baseman Joe Mahoney. The 6-foot-6, 260-pound Mahoney had been quiet in the series, but broke out when he sent Jared Freni’s offering over the right-field wall for his conference-leading 14th home run in the third inning.

Those three runs were all Richmond starter Matt Zielinski needed, as the freshman left-hander tossed a complete game, allowing the one run on six hits. Despite going the distance for the first time this season, Zielinski didn’t record a single strikeout. He entered the game having struck out 58 batters in 62 innings.

Trouble almost brewed in the fifth, as Freni and Mahoney had words for each other after Freni hit Mahoney with his first pitch in the at-bat. The umpires quickly intervened and trouble was averted.

Freni pitched well, only making the one mistake on the long ball by Mahoney. He took the loss, however, allowing three runs in 5 2/3 innings. Mike Dicato was terrific in relief, allowing just one base runner in 3 1/3 innings.

In Sunday’s rubber match, the Spiders jumped on starter Tim Comiskey – knocking him out in the third inning after he allowed six walks and three runs. Richmond picked up one run in the sixth and two more in the seventh off reliever Rory McDonald to take a 6-0 lead.

UMass wanted nothing to do with Mahoney, walking him four times, including three intentionally. Cleanup hitter Riggi made the Minutemen pay for that decision in the first, following the walk with an RBI single. He almost made them pay in a big way in the seventh, just missing a grand slam as Jim Cassidy took it away from him in left field with a terrific catch.

The Minutemen put a comeback together in the seventh, getting four straight singles after Franczek reached on an error to start the inning. With the bases loaded, Lou Proietti bounced into a double play, scoring the third run of the inning. Cassidy then struck out, but he reached on the past ball as the runner from third scampered home.

With the score 6-4, Alas came in for the Spiders, retiring Adam Tempesta for the third out. He finished off the Minutemen with two additional shutout innings, registering his 12th save.

UMass maintains the seventh spot in the conference, but is now two games back of Xavier with six conference games remaining. The Minutemen meet the Musketeers in Cincinnati, Ohio for three games starting on May 17.

“I haven’t been doing much scoreboard watching, but we definitely have to win both our remaining series,” Garrity said. “We have to play our best baseball in the next two weeks.”

Eli Rosenswaike can be reached at [email protected]