Popielarczyk emerging as team ace

By Chris Corso

The Massachusetts baseball team’s star on the hill so far this season has clearly been senior right-hander Joe Popielarczyk.

Announced Monday of last week, Popielarcyzk was honored as the Atlantic 10 Pitcher of the Week, as well as the co-UMass Athlete of the Week.

In his two outings last week, Popielarczyk was impeccable with a 2-0 record. In his start against Old Dominion, he only allowed two hits in 5.1 innings and didn’t surrender a run in UMass’ 8-0 victory.

He also dominated Atlantic 10 foe Fordham on Wednesday, when he went the whole way, completing the game with 10 strikeouts, allowing only one earned run and four walks in the Minutemen’s 3-1 win.

“It’s always great to be able to throw strikes, and know that the defense is going to be able to the make plays, Popielarczyk said in an interview with UMassAthletics.com. “I was able to get ahead with strikes and they were eager to hit expecting fastballs and I just threw breaking balls by them.”

In Popielarczyk’s first career complete game effort, he only allowed one runner on third base in the first eight innings of play. The senior looked to be in trouble in the ninth as he allowed three straight singles, but UMass coach Mike Stone stuck with his ace. It seemed to work, as the Minutemen put a halt to the Rams’ rally with a game-ending double play.

“We feel all three of our guys can pitch late into the game and give us a chance to win,” said Stone. “Joe did a great job at that last week, and we expect that from him all season.”

On the season, the 6-foot right-hander has only allowed two earned runs in 19.2 innings pitched. He owns a 0.92 ERA, leading all Atlantic 10 pitchers in that category.

He also leads Atlantic 10 starting pitchers with the least amount of hits allowed (15), and the least amount of runs allowed (2). The starter closest to him in runs allowed is Charlotte’s Joe Vermal, who has a total of 11 runs allowed.

Popielarczyk has kept hitters off balance all season at the plate, where they are hitting just .224 when he is on the hill.  The transition for him into a breaking ball pitcher can be pointed to as one of the reasons for his dominance on the mound this season. That average is good for eighth-best in the Atlantic 10.

Another key for Popielarczyk this season has been the development of his off speed pitches. Along with his fastball, Popielarczyk features a curveball, slider and even a change-up that he throws to hitters from time to time.

Coming off just three starts for the Minutemen in his junior season and a 7.56 ERA in 15 appearances, Popielarczyk’s dominance has been a pleasant surprise for UMass this season.

Popielarczyk and the deep Minutemen pitching staff look to lead Massachusetts to an Atlantic 10 title this year, as the team sits at (2-1) in conference play, third in the standings, behind Saint Louis (4-1) and Xavier (2-0).

If Popielarczyk can continue his performance as the ace of the Atlantic 10, he will give UMass an advantage to win every series in conference play

“He’s a competitor out there,” said Stone. “He’s been our ace so far and comes up with outs when we need them the most.”

Chris Corso can be reached at [email protected]udent.umass.edu and followed on Twitter @MDC_Corso.