Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UM bats ignite over SLU

An eighth-inning rally by the Massachusetts baseball team came up short on Friday afternoon. But the Minutemen bats ignited on Saturday, completing another eighth-inning rally en route to a doubleheader sweep of Saint Louis.

Two strong starting pitching performances and a clutch relief effort ensured UMass (10-21, 7-8 Atlantic 10) its third-straight series win.

Game 2 of the doubleheader, and rubber-match of the series, featured another impressive outing for last week’s A-10 Player of the Week Bryan Leigh (3-4). The senior hurled eight scoreless innings and recorded a career-high 11 strikeouts in a 12-0 Minutemen rout.

UMass coach Mike Stone recently decided to move the senior to the starting role, and it has paid off.

“[Leigh’s performance] was very similar to the game he pitched at Rhode Island,” Stone said. “We scored runs and he shut them down. When we score runs and he gets all his pitches working for him, he can be very tough.”

UMass hitters pounced on the Billiken (20-21, 8-7 A-10) pitching staff, beginning in the fourth inning when they scored six runs off of starter Andrew Buckham and reliever Tommy Coovert. The bottom half of the frame began with back-to-back long balls by Peter Copa and Mike Gedman and was capped off with a Brian Baudinet two-RBI single.

Mike Gedman’s (5-for-11, four RBI, two home runs) strong hitting during the series capped a week in which he hit five home runs and 11 RBI.

Each starter on the Minutemen lineup hit safely during the game, led by Copa, Gedman and Ryan Cusick, who each had three hits. UMass accrued 17 hits in Game 2 and 35 total hits on the afternoon.

“Our guys looked good in the box. They looked comfortable, they looked confident and they produced,” Stone said.

A rousing comeback in Game 1 of Saturday’s doubleheader seemed to be deflating to the SLU team.

“The momentum from Game 1 continued through to the next game,” Stone said. “They were up 9-3 and I don’t think they recovered from [the defeat]. That was demoralizing.”

Facing a six-run deficit in Game 1 of the doubleheader, the Minutemen chipped away at the Billiken lead, capping their rally with back-to-back home runs in the bottom of the eighth inning. Reliever Joe Popielarczyk (1-0) kept St. Louis at bay, throwing three scoreless innings allowing one hit to earn the win.

UMass began its rally by tallying one run each in the sixth and seventh innings to make the score 9-5. Mike Gedman began the home eighth with a double, advancing to third on a passed ball.

After a Tom Conley sacrifice fly sent Gedman home, consecutive walks to Kyle Multner and Ryan Cusick set the stage for Eric Fredette’s game-tying three-run homer over the left field wall. Matt Gedman followed that with a solo blast of his own to put the Minutemen ahead and tie the weekend series at one apiece.

Popielarczyk made way for the UMass rally when he came out of the bullpen in the sixth inning to shut down the St. Louis lineup. After two errors led to two Billiken runs, Charlie Benson failed to record an out in relief of starter Jared Freini, loading the bases on a walk and giving St. Louis another run on a free pass. Then, the sophomore right-hander was handed the ball and sat the next two batters down.

“We had a great relief performance by Popielarczyk,” Stone said. “He came in [during] a tough situation, did the job and continued to pitch well throughout the game.”

Freini (1-4) struggled early on in that game, allowing nine runs (seven earned) on eight hits while throwing seven strikeouts over five and one-third innings, until he was bailed out by Popeilarczyk’s shut-down performance.

Stone was pleased with his team’s resiliency and focus down the stretch of Game 1, and ability to make up for their early miscues.

“We played some good defense near the end of [the game],” Stone said. “Early on we made a few errors, but offensively we hung with it and had the big eighth inning. We hit the ball well all day long and had some big hits at the end of the game, so that was important.”

The Minutemen had seven hitters with multiple hits, led by Fredette who went 4-for-5 with two runs and three RBIs. The second baseman was also the only player to hit multiple times in Friday’s game as he ended the weekend 8-for-12 in the batter’s box with six RBIs.

During the first game of the series, both starting pitchers went the distance, as the Minutemen fought to keep the game close and came up just short on a chance to tie in the final frame.

Down 4-2 in the bottom of the eighth, Cusick reached base on a double to leadoff the inning and Fredette knocked him in on the next at-bat with a single up the middle. Then, a Matt Gedman sacrifice bunt advanced Fredette to second. After a fly-out by Baudinet, a Mike Donato single put runners on the corner, but after a wild pitch moved both runners into scoring position, Peter Copa grounded out to end the inning.

With one last chance to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth, Mike Gedman nearly hit a solo home run to center field, but the ball appeared to hit a gust of wind, falling into the glove of J.D. Dunn to end the game, 4-3.

Starting pitcher Nick Serino (1-4) pitched formidably in a complete-game effort, allowing eight hits and fanning the same amount of batters in a 4-3 defeat. Billiken starting pitcher Bryant Cotton earned the win with similar numbers, going the full nine and allowing three earned runs on seven hits and eight strikeouts.

“Nick’s got a good attitude, he knows he pitched well, well enough to win. He’s not going to dwell on [the loss],” Stone said. “We worked on and improved on not getting down mentally when we [face a deficit]. As long as we take advantage of every at-bat and take quality swings, we have a chance to comeback.”

The Minutemen will take that strong mental attitude into their next matchup on Tuesday at home against Siena.

Dan Gigliotti can be reached at [email protected]

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