Small-ball big factor for thriving Minutemen

By Taylor C. Snow

Sometimes a team doesn’t need a powerful bat to win baseball games.

That’s been the case so far in the 2012 campaign for the Massachusetts baseball team, as the Minutemen have just one lone home run on the year yet still have been able to win.

UMass plays according to the philosophy of coach Mike Stone that the team is fully capable of winning by playing classic small-ball, consisting of bunting, stealing bases and hit-and-runs.

“I always like playing [small-ball], and we have a group of guys who are applying that way of playing right now,” said Stone. “It really makes a difference because we are being unpredictable and when we can execute it right, we can score runs.”

Although last in the A-10 in homers, the Minutemen are first in sacrifice bunts per game with an average of 1.81 while Xavier is a far second, averaging 1.36.

Playing with a small approach was one of the factors that carried UMass (7-10, 3-1 A-10) in yesterday’s conference home-opening, one-run victory over La Salle, The Minutemen converted three sacrifice bunts, highlighted by Rob McLam’s sacrifice in the fifth that led to the first run of the game. After a leadoff double from second baseman Ryan Cusick, McLam laid a perfect roller down the line, which enabled the runner to advance to third.

“I think [the small-ball approach] helps the team out a lot, and is a great way to just get the job done out there,” said McLam, who leads the team in sac bunts with seven. “You just have to see the ball to the bat and be able to get it down right.”

Tom Conley came up two batters later with two outs and singled in Cusick, putting UMass up 1-0.

With the losses of Matt Gedman and Peter Copa, McLam feels it is essential for the Minutemen to play small-ball in order to make up for the lost bats.

“It seems like we haven’t been able to score as many runs as last year, so it’s good to be playing with the small approach,” said McLam. “And we’re 3-1 in the [conference] so it’s looking good so far.”

Sorenson pitching out of jams

Dennis Torres pitched brilliantly yet again for UMass, going 7.2 innings strong, only allowing one run. However in the eighth, he allowed his only earned run of the game and loaded the bases, forcing Stone to pull him in favor of closer Leif Sorenson.

As Sorenson stepped up onto the pressure point of the diamond, his mother, Stacy, left her seat in the stands and began pacing back and forth nervously.

“Oh, I always walk. I’m definitely a walker,” said Stacy. “I get more nervous than him in these situations.”

“Whenever I go in, she gets up all nervous and walks around,” said Sorenson of his mother. “I don’t even know if she’s always watching,” he laughed.

But for the senior reliever, going into pressure situations is something he’s gotten used to over the course of his tenure as a Minuteman.

“I usually come in with guys on base,” said Sorenson. “It’s my third year doing this, coming in at the end of the game in these situations.”

Sorenson didn’t get out of the inning easily after George Smith Jr. worked the count full, but Sorenson was able to outsmart him.

“I threw a couple of fastballs that he fouled off, then threw a few sliders off the plate, but he wasn’t having it,” said Sorenson. “Then I just gave him a sinker right over the middle and he grounded it right to first.”

In the ninth, Sorenson allowed two runners to reach base, putting the pressure on himself once again with two outs and a full count on pinch-hitter Kevin Conroy. This time Sorenson got the job done himself, striking Conroy out swinging to end the first game of the series in dramatic fashion.

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