UMass takes one of three from St. Joe’s as conference play begins

By Steve Levine

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A difficult start to the season was compounded last weekend as the Massachusetts baseball team lost a frustrating series to St. Joseph’s University to open conference play.

On Saturday, the Minutemen (2-11, 1-2 Atlantic 10) started the series with a doubleheader against the Hawks (6-11, 2-1 A-10). It proved to be a tough day overall for UMass as the offense could not keep up with solid pitching performances.

Senior Jared Freni got the start in Game 1 and delivered a respectable performance, tossing six innings while giving up six runs (five earned) on nine hits, four walks and seven strikeouts. 

“I thought Jared battled through it,” UMass coach Mike Stone said. “Early, we had problems defensively and he ended up giving us good innings. We battled back, tied the game up and eventually lost it in the last couple of innings.”

Most of the offense UMass could muster came from the bat of junior first baseman Peter Copa, who drilled a pair of two-run home runs, the latter of which knotted the score at 6-6 in the top of the eighth inning.

“Pete came through with a couple of home runs and put us in a position to win the ballgame,” Stone said. “The second one was a clutch home run. He’s been swinging the bat well and it was great to see him come through there for us.”

As Copa deposited his second home run of the game, the momentum seemed to shift in UMass’ favor. However, in the bottom half of the frame junior reliever Charlie Benson gave up three runs as UMass went on to lose the contest, 9-6.

Game 2 of the doubleheader was again frustrating for the Minutemen, who found themselves on the losing end of a pitcher’s duel.

Senior Nick Serino was virtually untouchable in his start, as he threw a complete game by allowing one run on three hits and five walks while striking out a career-high 13. The only blemish came in the eighth inning, when Serino threw a wild pitch that allowed the Hawks’ Joe Cook to score the only run of the game.

“Nick was dominating. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any runs for him,” Stone said. “It’s too bad because it was a wasted pitching performance – we just couldn’t get any runs for him. We didn’t see anybody special on the mound [either], it was just kind of a struggle offensively.”

Given the way Serino was pitching, Stone saw no need to go to the bullpen. It was just a matter of whether or not the bats could come through.

“It was one of those days,” Stone said. “We had a few opportunities and didn’t cash in. I think that it was frustrating from the standpoint of the hitters because we just couldn’t get anything going.”

It was the opposite on Sunday, when the offense finally awoke to complement another standout pitching performance – this time from senior Mike Gedman – en route to UMass’ 8-1 victory.

The bats were alive early this time for UMass, which plated five runs over the first two innings.

“We bounced back,” Stone said. “It’s tough emotionally when you lose two games in one day. But today we bounced back and had a really good approach. We came out, scored some runs and set the tone early.”

The Minutemen were fueled early by a first inning two-out rally. It started when junior third basemen Matt Gedman drew a walk. UMass then sent senior outfielder Mike Donato to the plate, who singled through the left side. Senior outfielder Brian Baudinet extended the rally by hitting a double over the first basemen, scoring Gedman from third. With runners again on second and third, Copa continued his hot hitting with a single up the middle, scoring two.

That was all the offense Mike Gedman needed to secure the victory as he provided UMass with another complete game.

Gedman gave up just one run, scattering five hits and striking out 10 while not issuing a walk.

“Gedman pitched really well and was dominating,” Stone said. “He was very aggressive in the zone, he threw a lot of strikes and kept them off balance. He threw nothing straight and very few balls were hit hard off of him. We made really good plays defensively behind him too.”

UMass added five more runs before the game’s end, giving it its first win of conference play.

“It was really important to get something out of this series,” Stone said. “We’re disappointed, though, because against St. Joe’s we should have won more than just one. But if we take it one game at a time, I guess today was a big win for us.”

Steve Levine can be reached at [email protected]