Young arms contributing early

By Taylor C. Snow

Taylor Snow/Collegian

With seven of the 15 pitchers on the staff freshmen, the Massachusetts baseball team is an undeniably youthful group of ballplayers.

A pitching staff primarily made up of freshmen could be considered problematic – especially a team like UMass that posted a 5.89 earned run average last season – however, the young arms on the staff have exceeded expectations early this season.

The youngsters have helped bump this year’s team ERA up to 3.77. A trio of freshmen – Conor LeBlanc, Tim Stoops and Tim Cassidy – have stood out on the mound, providing comfort for the coaching staff, and ultimately giving the team opportunities to win games.

LeBlanc and Stoops have combined to pitch only 5.2 innings, but nonetheless, neither has allowed a run, and they’ve combined to give up just one hit.

Cassidy has seen action in three of the first 12 games, and has tossed seven innings with a respectable 2.57 ERA.

In Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to Holy Cross (11-9), UMass coach Mike Stone started with freshman Andrew Grant, LeBlanc and Cassidy as his first pitchers.

“The reason we had so many young guys pitch today was because we haven’t seen these guys pitch for awhile,” said Stone. “We need to know if we can have confidence in them based on their performances, and today they looked pretty good.”

Grant started the game off for UMass (4-8) and barely made it out of the second inning. The six-foot-four righty struggled as he worked two innings and gave up four earned runs on six hits, a walk and a strikeout.

Though Grant, the fourth man in the rotation for the Minutemen, has started off on a rocky road, Stone is confident that there is potential in the 19-year-old.

“He’s got a good arm, you can tell that right away,” said Stone. “He’s got a good fastball, a good breaking ball, he’s just got to trust his stuff a little bit more.”

If Grant settles down a few aspects of his game, Stone believes that he can be a force in the rotation.

“He’s got to get ahead in the count, he needs to throw more strikes, and he needs to have an out-pitch that he can rely on consistently,” said Stone. “But like I said it’s all about trusting your stuff.”

The following seven innings were stellar for the UMass staff, as they combined to pitch a one-hitter the rest of the way. This solid work was produced by three underclassman.

LeBlanc came into the 4-3 game, threw two innings, and surrendered only one hit.

Cassidy followed with a near-perfect inning and sophomore Ryan Lubreski came into the sixth to pitch two more scoreless innings.

Lubreski was impressed with the freshmen pitchers who preceded him.

“We have a young staff, and a few of these guys can really throw the ball,” said Lubreski. “You could really see that today.”

Lubreski, who only had only 15 innings under his belt before this year, ran into a jam in the seventh when he loaded the bases with one out. However, the second-year reliever escaped the game as he forced Holy Cross’ Chris Sintetos into an inning-ending double play.

“Well it was a tough situation,” said Lubreski. “It was a close game and I knew I needed a double-play ball. My slider was working, so I threw him two straight sliders, and he rolled the second one up the middle for a tailor-made double-play.”

Despite pitching nearly flawless ball in the final seven innings, UMass was unable to get over the 4-3 hump, but Holy Cross coach Greg DiCenzo was impressed with the youthful Minutemen.

“They were great, I mean they pounded the strike-zone and challenged our hitters,” said DiCenzo. “After the second inning, anytime we had runners on base creating a jam, they were able to work out of it.”

Stone believes that with a little bit of work with the young pitching staff, the Minutemen will be able to start winning more consistently.

“[The underclassmen] have done a great job so far for the most part,” said Stone. “We’re excited about the pitching staff, and I’ve just told the team, that if we play hard and execute a little better, we’re going to win more ballgames.”

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