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

UMass baseball looks to rebound from disappointing 2011 season

With 11 games under its belt for the 2012 season, the Massachusetts baseball team’s season is underway, and with it the hope of improving from last year’s pitching woes and recovering from key offensive departures.

Last year’s squad finished second-to-last in the Atlantic 10 with its 8-15-1 conference record while posting a 17-29-1 mark for the entire season. This year’s Minutemen must endure a pair of departures from key members of last year’s lineup. Matt Gedman — arguably UMass’ best overall hitter from a year ago — was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in last year’s Major League Baseball draft, while the team’s primary power hitter and base stealing threat, Peter Copa, is currently in the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim minor league system.

Pitching was the main dilemma in the 2011 campaign for the Minutemen, finishing with a less-than-stellar 5.89 earned run average while opponents posted a .325 batting average.

Senior closer Leif Sorenson, the only pitcher with a sub-4.75 ERA last year, expressed confidence in regards to this year’s staff with the belief that they will fare better than last year.

“One thing is that we’re more experienced now,” said Sorenson. “Dennis [Torres] looks really sharp, [Joe] ‘Pops’ [Popielarczyk] has been around and he has experience, and the freshmen of the staff look good too.”

UMass coach Mike Stone expects improvement for his pitching staff as well.

“We have more talent on the mound this year,” said Stone. “We have more depth this year, so I expect us to pitch better than we did last year.”

So far, Torres and Popielarczyk have combined for five solid starts, while Sorenson has gotten off to a hot start in relief, throwing 11.1 innings with just one run allowed along with nine strikeouts and 3 saves.

As a team, the Minutemen have a 3.75 ERA, which, as Sorenson and Stone predicted, is already an immense improvement.

Offense was a shining point for UMass last spring, boasting a .282 team batting average. But losing the key bats of Gedman and Copa will force the Minutemen to put their faith in a lineup consisting of several underclassmen.

Stone was not concerned when asked about the key losses from last year’s starting nine.

“We can’t worry about [losing Gedman and Copa],” said Stone. “We have some young kids that can swing the bat, and if we play the right way with good team-oriented offense, we will score.”

Senior catcher Tom Conley also expressed faith in the young batters.

“It’s a different offense. Maybe not as explosive, but I think we will still be able to put up some runs,” said Conley.

With sophomores occupying all four infield spots, UMass may benefit with the addition of the new assistant coach, and former Minutemen second baseman, Eric Fredette.

“He played scrappy baseball for us and he’s a leader to our team, so we’re happy to have him,” said Stone of last year’s team co-captain.

So far, UMass has traveled all over the east coast, beginning with a three-game series against then-No. 18 Central Florida on March 9.

With the Minutemen being the last Division I team to begin play, the Knights shut them down in their first game, 16-4. However, they showed strides in the next two affairs, losing by one run in each despite incredible pitching performances from Torres and Popielarczyk.

UMass picked up its first win of the year in a one-game showdown at Hartford on the March 13, scratching out an 8-7 victory. Following the win, the Minutemen traveled back down south to Norfolk, Va. to face Old Dominion, where they took one out of three games.

The Big Blue held the UMass bats to just 3 runs in the first two contests, but the bats came alive on the March 19 as it ousted Old Dominion, 8-0.

Rob McLam, Kyle Adie and Conley each had multi-hit games, while Popielarczyk and Sorenson combined for the shutout.

The bats continued to crack for UMass in its one-game visit to West Long Branch, N.J., to face Monmouth, but an 11-hit effort only yielded one man to cross the plate for the Minutemen as they fell, 2-1.

UMass began conference play on the March 23 with a come-from-behind thriller at Fordham, 5-4. With the victory, Stone surpassed the 600-win mark in his 20th year as a head coach, with the 11-plus seasons at the helm for the Minutemen.

This season, Saint Louis and Richmond will likely be the most prominent competition for UMass in the A-10. Both the Billikens and the Spiders have started out ahead of the pack early on this season, posting 18-5 and 13-8 records, respectively.

Alex Alemann leads the way for SLU, posting a 5-0 record and 1.09 ERA. Through March 19, Alemann was fifth in the nation in ERA with a 0.74 mark.

For power-heavy Richmond, Chris Cowell leads Division 1 players with 11 home runs in only 21 games played. The Spiders have three other hitters with at least six round-trippers, making them the top home run-hitting team in the country through March 22.

However, Stone didn’t express any opinion regarding the strength of the upcoming in-conference schedule.

“I don’t look at our schedule,” said Stone. “I just want to play every game to the best of our ability and see what happens.”

“We can’t go through the schedule and count the wins before they happen,” added Stone. “We’re just going to have to try to win every ball game and win every inning.”

As for goals, Stone will not focus on personal statistical goals, but rather on the Minutemen performance as a whole.

“We don’t have batting average goals or anything like that,” said Stone. “We just have to play smart, heads-up, team-oriented baseball and we are prepared to do that because we’ve been practicing for seven-and-a-half weeks.”

Conley agreed that team goals outweigh personal stats.

“Personal goals come with the team goals. You know we want to win, and if we come out and work hard every game, the personal goals are going to come into place,” Conley said.

UMass’ opening homestand begins today at 3 p.m. against Holy Cross, followed by a three-game series against Albany, one game against Connecticut and another three-game series versus La Salle.

Taylor Snow can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at MDC_Snow.


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    economyMar 27, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    Although that was totally sick…the world record for the RUNNING marathon is 2:02 and change. That’s just twice as slow as a cyclist. Insane.