Baseball nabs first win of the year

By Scott Cournoyer

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

After starting the season with three consecutive losses, the Massachusetts baseball team notched its first victory of the 2011 season, defeating Hartford, 8-7, on Tuesday afternoon.

Trailing by one run late in the game, sophomore Rob McLam’s two-run single in the top of the eighth inning lifted the Minutemen (1-3) over the Hawks (1-11). McLam finished the day 3-for-3 with two stolen bases and three RBIs.

“Rob was patient, confident and poised for us,” said UMass coach Mike Stone. “He hadn’t had any at-bats before coming in. I felt we needed a bit of a shift there at the top, and he came in and did a great job for us.”

Redshirt freshmen Adam Picard hit his first career home run, driving in two runs on a rocket to left field. For the second consecutive game, redshirt sophomore Ryan Cusick stole three bases and went 2-for-3 at the plate with an RBI and three runs scored. Junior Rich Grael had a pair of hits, scored twice and junior Anthony Serino drove in two runs as well.

The offense started early for the Minutemen. In the top of the first, Cusick drew a four-pitch walk, stole second, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt. He went on to score on an RBI groundout by Serino and gave UMass an early 1-0 lead.

In the bottom half of the first, Hartford responded with back-to-back singles by Trey Stover and James Alfonso. That set up a two-run double for Andy Drexel, giving the Hawks a 2-1 lead. Brian Hunter then doubled to left, brining Drexel around from second, and increased Hartford’s lead to two runs.

In the top of the third, Cusick cut the lead to one when he singled, stole second and third and scored on an RBI groundout by Serino.

In the bottom half of the inning though, the Hawks increased the margin again, using a leadoff walk and an RBI single to right field by Simon Kudernatsch.

In the top of the fourth, UMass lit up the scoreboard. After senior Tom Conley led off the inning with a hit-by-pitch, Picard belted his two-run homer to left field to tie the game at four runs each. The inning didn’t stop there, as McLam singled to center to bring around Graef, giving the Minutemen a 5-4 lead.

In the bottom of the fifth, Hartford tied the game at five when Kudernatsch reached base on an error and later scored on another error, taking advantage of the UMass faults.

Sophomore Nick Sanford walked to open the sixth, then advanced to second and third on back-to-back wild pitches, and scored on a sacrifice fly by Cusick.

In the bottom of the seventh, the Hawks took control yet again. With two outs, Hunter lead off with a walk and Brady Sheetz tripled to center, tying the game at six. Ryan Lukach then followed up with an RBI-single up the middle to send home the go-ahead run.

In the bottom of the eighth, Graef singled up the middle and Cusick doubled to put men on second and third. That set the stage for McLam’s single and gave the Minutemen an 8-7 lead they kept for the remainder of the game.

Pitching was shaky for UMass, but senior Leif Sorenson locked down the game, throwing two scoreless innings at the end with a pair of strikeouts to notch his first save of the season.

“Leif is just really solid for us,” said Stone. “We know him, we know he how pitches and he’s been great for us over the last few years. He has our confidence every time he goes out there.”

Junior Ron Wallace picked up the victory (1-0), recording one out in the seventh.

Freddy Andujar (0-1), a native of Holyoke, Mass., took the loss for Hartford, tossing 1.2 innings while allowing one run on two hits with one walk.

Freshman Andrew Grant started the game for UMass, allowing four earned runs off five hits and two walks over 2.1 innings.

Scott Cournoyer can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @MDC_Cournoyer.