Minutemen take on URI

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian staff

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Last year against Rhode Island, Massachusetts baseball coach Mike Stone won his 500th game as UMass’s coach.

If he wants to lead his team to the Atlantic 10 Tournament for the first time in five years, he’s going to need at least two more against the Rams this weekend.

The Minutemen (16-22, 9-12 A-10) currently sit in 11th place in the 14-team A-10, and need to crack the top six to reach the postseason tournament. They are two games back of St. Bonaventure for the final spot, but four teams are above them in the race.

UMass will have its chance, though. The final two series are against teams higher up in the standings; URI (fourth) and Fordham (seventh). First up are the Rams (25-21, 12-8-1 A-10), a team that has won four straight and 14 of its last 17 behind good hitting and even better pitching.

The Minutemen have their work cut out for them against ace sophomore left-hander Nick Greenwood. The southpaw hurled a complete-game shutout last time out against Saint Joseph’s, striking out 13 batters while walking none. Sophomore right-hander Eric Smith wasn’t bad in that series, either, fanning 11 and allowing one run in 7.1 innings.

The bullpen has been even better, with a trio of right-handers that have repeatedly shut the door in the later innings. Tim Boyce, Luke Demko and Jamie Degidio have combined for six wins, eight saves and an incredible 105-26 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 84 innings of work.

An improved UMass offense will try to counter that. Senior Ryan Franczek has broken out of his slump and is killing the ball, while four Minutemen are hitting above .300. Brian Baudinet has slowed down a bit from his scorching start but still paces the team with a .367 average.

URI is hitting better than UMass as a team (.287 to .273) but feature less of a balanced attack with two main cogs leading the way. Catcher Zach Zaneski and third baseman Shaun Hagey are both hitting .366, while no other Ram is above .300.

Mitchell Clegg and Mike Dicato will start for UMass this weekend at Bill Beck Field in Kingston, R.I., while Nick Serino, Bryan Leigh or Jared Freni will get the nod in the other game.

The Minutemen have struggled on the road this season, maintaining a 5-13 record away from home. Against teams in the conference, however, they are 5-7. URI is 11-7 on its home field.

Last season against the Rams, Stone captured his 500th win with the program winning the first game of a doubleheader on April 7. But the Minutemen fell in the second game in extra innings, blowing the save in the ninth inning on a throwing error. The final game of the series wasn’t close, as the Rams hit four home runs en route to a 16-3 victory.

Eli Rosenswaike can be reached at [email protected]