UMass avoids sweep on Conley’s walk-off double

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Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

The Massachusetts baseball team won the finale of a three-game home series, 5-4, over Temple after senior Tom Conley hit an RBI double in the bottom of the 12th on Sunday.

UMass (16-16, 9-6 Atlantic 10) dropped the first two games against the Owls this weekend, losing 6-3 and 8-4, respectively on Friday and Saturday.

On the hill for the Minutemen on Sunday was National Pitcher of the Year candidate Joe Popielarczyk, who pitched 7.2 innings and gave up just three earned runs. Popielarczyk is 4-0 on the season with an impressive 1.45 ERA.

UMass scored the first run of the matchup in the bottom of the third on an RBI single by right fielder Kyle Adie that sent home Nick Sanford.

The Owls struck back in the top of the fifth, where they did their only damage of the game. In the inning, the Owls scored four runs on three hits, two walks and a costly error by Dylan Begin to take a 4-1 lead.

UMass inched its way back into the game in the seventh when leadoff hitter Ryan Cusick hit a single that knocked in Begin to cut the Owls’ lead to two runs.

In the next inning, Popielarczyk worked himself into a jam, allowing a leadoff double to senior outfielder Taylor Juran, then hitting the next batter with no outs.

After a sacrifice bunt by Matt Elko and a groundout by Allen Stiles, UMass coach Mike Stone put in junior reliever Ron Wallace, as Popielarczyk seemed to be out of gas.

Wallace kept the Minutemen in the ballgame and got the next batter to fly out to centerfield to end the inning, not allowing any insurance runs for Temple.

“Ron [Wallace] is a great team guy, always puts the team first, and he made so many quality pitches today to keep us in the game,” said Stone.

After another scoreless inning pitched by Wallace, the Minutemen came up to the plate in the bottom of the ninth, trailing 4-2.

Begin led off the inning with a single up the middle. The next batter, pinch hitter Alex Tuneski hit a ball to centerfielder Jabair Khan, but he dropped the ball, which put runners on first and second for the Minutemen with no outs.

Rich Graef put the runners in scoring position with a sacrifice bunt that set up the top of the lineup with an opportunity for a comeback.

Ryan Cusick got his second RBI of the game on a sacrifice fly that sent Jeff Cavanaro home, and the Owls committed another error on the next play as shortstop Nick Lustrino could not make a routine throw on Adie’s groundball.

Pinch runner Paul Yanakopulos scored to tie the game at 4-4, and the inning ended as Anthony Serino lined out to Lustrino for the last out, sending the game into extra innings.

Wallace pitched through three more innings, allowing two runners on base and no earned runs.

“It’s really great to see a guy like Ron [Wallace], who puts in the work to get the reward that he did in his outing today,” said Stone.

In the bottom of the 12th, reliable senior catcher Tom Conley stepped up to the plate with Serino on first base. Conley’s only hit of the game was a clutch one, as he roped a ball deep to left center to send Serino off to the races.

“Before we had a chance to get anyone moving on the basepaths, Tom [Conley] hit a gapper to left to send home the winning runner,” said Stone. “Tom’s the guy we want up to bat in that situation, and he got the job done for us today.”

Serino crossed home plate on the Conley double, as UMass celebrated around the plate for a 5-4 extra innings victory.

“We were fortunate to get a win today,” said Stone. “It’s been a tough weekend and it felt really good to get the win to end off the series,” said Stone.

The Minutemen will be back in action on Tuesday, as they head to Hamden, Conn. to take on Quinnipiac at 3 p.m.

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