UMass begins three-game series against A-10 foe La Salle

By Scott Cournoyer

Maria Uminski/Collegian

This is where it counts.

The Massachusetts baseball team hosts a three-game set against conference rival La Salle beginning tomorrow at Earl Lorden Field. First pitch is slated for 3 p.m.

UMass (6-10, 2-1 Atlantic 10) is coming off a loss to Connecticut on Monday and a split in a double-header against Albany on April 1. The Minutemen held a 3-2 lead against the Huskies deep into the latter half of the contest, but UConn put up a nine-run outburst in the seventh inning and UMass never recovered.

Freshman Conor LeBlanc made his first collegiate start, going 6.1 strong innings to give the Minutemen a chance for a victory. Instead, the bullpen surrendered the lead, and eventually the game.

UMass has a chance to improve its conference record, as the Explorers (15-13, 3-3 A-10) come in losing three straight contests, including three of their last four A-10 matchups. La Salle took two of three against George Washington (March 23-24) to open conference play, before losing two of three against Richmond during the last weekend of March to even out at .500.

The Explorers rank in the middle of the pack offensively this season in the conference, hitting .269, and rank second in the conference in total walks (143).

The offense is led by senior Marc Schoch and junior Joe Bennie, who hold six of the team’s combined 11 home runs this season Schoch holds a team-high .324 batting average as well as a .480 slugging percentage and is tied for the team lead in RBI’s with 18.La Salle is carried by its pitching, which ranks as one of the top teams during conference play.

The Explorers hold a 4.47 team ERA, good for sixth in the A-10. The staff also has a combined 225 strikeouts over 249.2 innings of work.

The rotation is lead by senior Kevin Christy, who holds a 2.51 ERA for the season, punching out 51 batters over 43 innings. He also holds a cool .194 batting average against.

Fellow senior Eric Van Wyk has thrown a team-high 44 innings this spring, going 3-2 with a 3.27 ERA. Junior Ryan Donahue, who has been back and forth between the bullpen and the rotation, is another guy that will be in the mix during this series.

The Minutemen last saw La Salle between May 20-22, 2010, taking two out of the three while outscoring their opponent, 22-14, during the series. UMass is 5-4 against the Explorers dating back to 2007.

Popielarczyk impressing on mound

In baseball, starting pitching is everything The more depth you have on the mound, the better your odds in the long run when competing for a championship.

Lately, the senior Popielarczyk has helped the Minutemen in big ways by throwing quality outings, resulting in more depth in the rotation and a chance to make some noise late in the season if he keeps it up.

Popielarczyk holds a 1.37 ERA this spring, tossing 26.1 innings while striking out nearly a batter per frame (24).

His last two outings have been impressive and essential for UMass. In his most recent start against Albany last Sunday, he went 6.2 innings, giving up two earned runs off four hits, striking out eight and surrendering two walks in the process.

His previous start back on March 25 against Fordham was even better, as the senior went all nine innings to record his second win (2-0) of the season. Popielarczyk fanned 10 batters while walking four and surrendered only one run on seven hits.

If Popielarczyk continues to excel, he could end up in the discussion as one of the best starters on the staff come season’s end.

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