UMass takes 2 of 3 from Albany

By Taylor C. Snow

In its first home series of the year, the Massachusetts baseball team shined, taking two out of three from Albany.

The third game of the series – played on the back end of a doubleheader on Sunday – was a dreary game, both literally and figuratively for the Minutemen.

Joe Popielarczyk entered the game with a sub-one ERA, which was by far the best amongst starters on UMass. Despite the rainy weather, his performance was not altered.

He struck out eight in 6.2 innings, and left in the seventh in a tied ballgame at 2-2.

Leif Sorenson came in with the hope of helping in a series sweep, but was not his usual self with the bad weather conditions.

In the seventh, he allowed Popielarczyk’s stranded runner to score, and had even more trouble in the eighth.

Despite the Minutemen gaining a 4-3 advantage in the bottom of the seventh, Sorenson was not able to close out the game, and allowed four runs.

Ron Wallace came in with two outs in the inning, but couldn’t mop up the mess, as he allowed two more runs, giving the Great Danes a 9-4 lead.

That score would remain, as Albany prevented the series sweep.

Stone thought the team should have taken home all three games, despite the Game 3 blowout.

“Glen battled all day long, and Joe pitched well too,” said Stone. “We should’ve won both of those games.”

Misho steps up

Game 2 was the first game of a Sunday afternoon doubleheader for the Minutemen, as Glen Misho stepped up to the rubber with the hopes of matching Dennis Torres’ performance from the day before.

Misho had struggled in his first three games, going 0-2 with an ERA over seven; however, he was quite the opposite against Albany, as he pitched seven strong innings, and ultimately picked up his first win of the year.

Misho said it was all about his mechanics.

“I just focused on all my pitches and was better with picking my spots, so I just let the game come to me,” said Misho.

Ryan Cusick started the game off in the first with some small-ball for the Minutemen. He reached on a four-pitch walk, proceeded to steal second and third, before Anthony Serino grounded out to short, enabling Cusick to score.

In the third, UMass continued with the small-ball approach, and it was once again successful.

After Nick Sanford was hit by a pitch, Rich Graef reached safely on a bunt and advanced him to second. Cusick then came up and bunted again, advancing the runners into scoring position for Rob McLam.

McLam attempted a bunt squeeze play, which scored the runner, and allowed him to reach when the pitcher threw the ball wild to first.

It was all the scoring that the Minutemen would need, as Misho pitched brilliantly, giving up just three hits, a walk, and a run in seven innings of seven-strikeout ball.

UMass had its most productive inning in the sixth, when it scored twice despite recording no hits. Cusick and McLam walked back-to-back before Serino bunted them over and catcher Tom Conley was intentionally walked. Dylan Begin and Nik Campero then walked in a run apiece, as the Minutemen took a commanding 4-0 lead.

They scored once more in the seventh, and Ryan Lubreski came into the eighth and finished off the game as UMass won 5-1.

First home win

The first game of the weekend was a total pitcher’s duel, as Torres took on Zach Kraham of the Great Danes and recorded a 2-1 victory.

For Torres, it was a happy homecoming back at UMass in his first home start of the year.

“It just felt good to be back in front of my fans,” said Torres. “Just being able to look up into the crowd and see familiar faces, be on a familiar mound, it just felt good to be home.”

Torres and Kraham went five strong innings before the first run was finally produced.

In the top half of the sixth, Torres got into a bases-loaded jam with just one out when shortstop Gordon Madej came up to the plate and caught UMass off guard with a suicide squeeze. Madej was out on the play, but advanced all three runners.

Torres made sure that that was the only Albany run tallied, as he struck out the next batter to end the inning with two Great Danes left stranded in scoring position.

In the bottom of the sixth, Albany made a surprising move by taking out Kraham, who had only thrown 68 pitches in five innings of work, and had pitched brilliantly, giving up just three hits, no walks, and recording six strikeouts.

It proved to be a costly move as the incoming pitcher, Kevin Archbold, would only last two-thirds of an inning, and ultimately would lose the game for the Great Danes.

After recording one out, Archbold gave up a triple to Cusick and then a walk to McLam, who would eventually score the go-ahead run.

Serino then hit a hard grounder to short, but Madej could only get him out, as McLam advanced to second and Cusick scored the tying run.

With two outs, Conley came up and belted one off the wall in left-center field. McLam scored the winning run easily, as Conley slid into second with a double.

Despite a high pitch count, UMass coach Mike Stone let Torres continue to pitch, and he did not let up. Torres threw 42 pitches through the first two innings, and by the end of the eighth had tossed 116.

Torres hopes he can keep that pitch count down slightly by facing batters with a different approach.

“I just have to focus on getting ahead in counts and throwing more strikes earlier in the count, where I can be more in demand,” said Torres. “I have to do that, instead of getting behind 2-0, 3-0, where the hitters are in command.

Instead of going with closer Sorenson to finish off the game in the ninth, Stone split the save opportunity between freshmen Tim Stoops and Conor LeBlanc.

Stone stated that he has confidence in the two underclassmen in tight situations, but when rested, he will normally go with Sorenson to close games.

“We may see [Tim] and [Conor] in these situations, but if Leif’s rested, he’ll pitch against anybody,” said Stone.

UMass will take on UConn on Tuesday, as it hopes to fare better against the Huskies in comparison to last year. In 2011, UConn won both games against the Minutemen, including an 18-3 massacre on April 18.

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