Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Torres takes the hill Friday as UMass looks to stay hot

By Scott Cournoyer

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Maria Uminski/Collegian

Dennis Torres has helped carry the Massachusetts baseball team all spring.

The junior will be at it again Friday when he takes the mound for UMass (10-10, 5-1 Atlantic 10), as the Minutemen open a three-game set at Saint Joseph’s to try to keep pace at the top of the conference standings.

Torres has been impressive this spring. In just his second collegiate season, the 6-foot-2 right-hander from Lawrence is 2-2 in five starts this season with a 2.08 ERA, while punching out 26 batters in 39 innings of work.

He’s gone at least seven innings every time out this year, a huge advantage for UMass coach Mike Stone, who relies on a handful of talented starters to carry UMass through a tough A-10 schedule.

“He’s really made big improvements this year,” said Stone of Torres. “He’s worked to get into shape, enough to get through a full season. He’s a worker, a guy who is always working to get better out there.”

Glen Misho follows Torres on Saturday. The senior has also made things easier for Stone, getting better each time out.

Misho, the 6-foot-1 senior from Quincy, holds a suspect 4.94 ERA, but has given up three earned runs in his last two starts.

Misho is 1-2 this year, with his lone victory coming against Albany on April 1 when he tossed seven innings of three-hit ball and allowed one earned run, fanning seven and walking one.

To round out this weekend’s series against the Hawks (12-20, 4-2 A-10), fellow senior Joe Popielarczyk takes the hill on Sunday.

Popielarczyk is arguably the most underrated of the bunch for the Minutemen. In five starts this spring, he’s 2-0 with a blistering 1.05 ERA, while also striking out 30 batters over 34.1 innings.

With Leif Sorenson shutting the door in the ninth and viable options for the innings in-between, UMass has the recipe for success.

“We’re honestly still looking for that fifth guy,” said Stone of the open spot still up for grabs in the rotation. “But right now, we’re pitching great and the offense is doing enough to put the runs on the board. We’re doing everything that you need and that’s a good place to be in.”

The Minutemen will be challenged by SJU’s loaded pitching staff, which features shutdown relievers Lansing Veeder and Steven Schuler, who have for a combined 20 appearances this season.

Kevin Kratochwill leads the Hawks’ lineup, hitting .344 this spring with two doubles, six RBIs and three stolen bases. Stepfan Kancylarz (.269, 12 RBIs) and Kevin Taylor (.250, 12 RBIs) also lead the charge for SJU.

UMass last played the Hawks in 2010, losing two out of the three in a series against the Hawks. The Minutemen have had success in recent years against SJU, going 8-4 dating back to 2006.

Campero shows some pop

Against Northeastern on Tuesday, sophomore Nik Campero added a dynamic to the UMass offense: power.

All season, the Minutemen have been playing small ball – stealing bases, moving runners up with productive outs, infield singles and timely doubles and extra-base hits that turn the momentum, and leads, in the process.

With the game tied at 1-1 in the sixth inning, senior Tom Conley stole second after drawing a walk — a big momentum shifter — and Campero followed with a two-run homer to give UMass a 3-1 advantage, a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.

The timely power is good for the Minutemen as they already have relatively deep starting pitching, a young core of relievers who are getting better as time goes on and a lineup made for small ball.

However, a little power here and there makes it easier to score extra runs late in games

LeBlanc showing he belongs

Having three starting pitchers to lead the rotation is great. Having a fourth is even better.

Freshman Conor LeBlanc is showing that he belongs in the rotation on a full-time basis after leading UMass with 7.2 strong innings in a 4-1 win against Northeastern on Tuesday,

“He was just great,” said Stone of LeBlanc. “He located his pitches really well and worked quickly. He really gave us a huge boost on the mound.”

The left-hander is 2-0 this season, pitching with a lights-out 1.45 ERA this spring. In his first career start against Connecticut back on April 2, LeBlanc tossed 6.1 innings while allowing just two earned runs off six hits.

LeBlanc followed up his solid first start with 1.1 innings in relief against La Salle four days later, earning his first career win in the process.

There’s no telling who else will step up or regress as the season moves along, but LeBlanc has proven he can handle collegiate pitching so far. He won’t punch out guys on a regular basis, but he works counts, moves quickly and pitches to his strengths.

Sometimes, that’s all you need to get the job done.

Scott Cournoyer can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @MDC_Cournoyer.

 

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