Bats coming alive for Minutemen

By Taylor C. Snow

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Maria Uminski/Collegian

The Massachusetts baseball team is on an offensive tear right now as it pulls closer to a potential bid in the Atlantic 10 conference tournament.

At the start of the season, UMass’ (15-14, 8-4 A-10) biggest strength was its pitching staff. However, the Minuteman offense has gone from 12th in the conference with a woeful .248 team batting average, to seventh in just a week after improving its mark to .268.

After having only four double-digit hit performances in its first 16 contests, UMass has had 10 or more hits in six of its last eight games.

Minuteman coach Mike Stone has been impressed with the gradual improvement of his lineup as of late.

“When we get double-digit hits it’s great,” said Stone. “We started off a little slow but now guys are starting to settle in. There’s a lot of ways to score runs and we’re doing a pretty good job at that.”

Yesterday afternoon, UMass faced Maine (21-17, 7-2 America East) and racked up 14 hits in 36 team at-bats.

Eight of the nine UMass players in the lineup had at least one knock, while five batters had multi-hit efforts.

Nik Campero, who had two hits on the day, has been one of the many shining points in the lineup as of late, as his batting average has spiked from a lowly, .222 to a respectable, .280 mark; a rise of .058 in a mere five-game stretch.

“I’ve just been trying to stay inside on the ball and [have been] looking for good pitches early in the count,” said Campero. “I just can’t get too deep into counts so I don’t get myself in a hole.”

As for the team as a whole, Campero has taken note of the strides the offense has taken over the past month.

“We’re not letting too many good pitches go by anymore. We’re just swinging at good pitches,” said Campero. “We have a lot of inexperience, but a lot of the young guys are stepping up and proving themselves right now.”

‘Pops’ a possible candidate for Pitcher of the Year

Senior starting pitcher Joe ‘Pops’ Popielarczyk has officially been named to the initial watch-list for Division I National Pitcher of the Year.

On Tuesday, the 21-year-old was announced by the College Baseball Hall of Fame as one of 51 players on the prestigious list.

Although Popielarczyk is happy to be a potential candidate; his primary focus is on the remainder of the season.

“It’s obviously nice to be recognized, but you know, I just want to keep going out and winning games for the team,” said Popielarczyk.

Last year, Popielarczyk posted a team-worst 7.86 ERA among players with at least 15 innings pitched.

Currently, the Northampton native is 4-0 with an astonishing 1.12 ERA, which is not only the top mark on the team, but also the best in the A-10, and good for fourth overall in the nation.

Within the A-10, Popielarczyk is 3-0 with a 0.87 ERA and has dished out 28 strikeouts in 31 innings pitched.

This being his last year as a Minuteman, Popielarczyk  made it a purpose to try to make his final year one to remember.

“Over the summer I tried to focus on what got to me [on the mound last season], so I improved over the summer,” said Popielarczyk. “It kind of hit me because this could be it for me.”

Stone couldn’t be happier for Popielarczyk.

“It’s tremendous,” said Stone. “He’s a great kid, a smart engineering student that’s going to be in grad school next year. His attitude and work ethic are outstanding and it’s just nice to see good things happen to good people.”

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