Minutemen ready to defend Beanpot title

By Mark Chiarelli

Rehan Talat/Collegian File Photo

For many, the Beanpot conjures images of the most esteemed college hockey tournament in the country, as four Boston-based schools battle for 365 days of local bragging rights.

But the Beanpot is also a baseball tournament. Staged throughout Massachusetts collegiate baseball, this lesser known event operates under the same guidelines as its hockey counterpart. UMass, Boston College, Northeastern and Harvard play each season to determine the best collegiate baseball team in the Commonwealth.

Since entering the Beanpot in 1996, the Minutemen are 17-16m and have won the tournament six times.

Fresh off a 2012 championship victory, UMass begins its title defense Wednesday, hosting 2011 champion Eagles at Earl Lorden field for the right to play in the title game at Fenway Park in Boston on April 29.

Only a season ago, the Minutemen rode a strong tournament performance from pitcher Connor LeBlanc to their sixth Beanpot title, defeating the Huskies and the Crimson in the process. LeBlanc pitched 13 2/3 innings, allowing only four earned runs while striking out 13. Eleven of those strikeouts came in the title game against Harvard.

The lineup also returns crucial Beanpot experience, as Adam Picard and Nik Campero will be faced with the challenge of meeting their own lofty benchmarks. In 2012, Picard tallied six hits, drove in five runs, and scored three of his own. Campero reached base six times while driving in three runs, spearheading the offensive attack.

The Beanpot could offer a shining moment in an otherwise difficult start for UMass, which heads into the game with a 4-17 record. The lineup has produced only six runs throughout the last four games, placing an increased burden on other facets of the team.

The Beanpot also offers a unique situation for the coaching staff, which has the option of managing games differently due to the brief nature of the tournament. While maintaining structure within the pitching staff is always crucial to long-term success, Minutemen coach Mike Stone has more flexibility given the do-or-die mentality of a single-elimination tournament.

Pitching rides momentum

As the Atlantic 10 schedule mounts and the pressure increases for UMass to improve down the stretch, the squad is still searching for an identity.

One potential trail of success may lead back to the mound, where a pair of hurlers recently turned in masterful performances for the Minutemen.

Despite taking a tough-luck loss Sunday at Rhode Island, southpaw Jordan Pace delivered his best performance of the season, allowing only three runs and six hits over eight innings. Pace fanned four batters in the loss. And on Saturday, Andrew Grant did him one better, firing a complete game shut-out — UMass’ first since 2009 — and carrying the team to a 2-0 victory.

If the hitting continues its Jekyll and Hyde act, Stone will have to rely on his pitching staff to win games. For a team struggling to find an identity, multiple games of consistency may cure many woes presented to a losing team.

Stringing together multiple solid performances may provide the necessary momentum required for the Minutemen to launch a late-season winning streak. The squad will likely look to ride the hot hand of Grant, who has won his last two starts. Grant hasn’t allowed a run over that 16 inning stretch while certainly looking the part of a workhorse, throwing 255 pitches over that span.

Mark Chiarelli can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli.