Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Minutemen ride wave of momentum into weekend series with La Salle

By Daniel Malone

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Cade Belisle/Collegian

Mike Stone said in early March that the Massachusetts baseball team would need 20 or so games before it rounded into the playing form he felt it was capable of. A month later, UMass is playing its best ball of the season and making good on its coach’s prediction.

Fresh off a 4-3 come-from-behind walk-off win on Wednesday, the Minutemen (9-18, 3-6 Atlantic 10) are riding high. Their pitching has been consistent, their hitters are starting to produce and the team has won six of its last eight games, including four in a row. It’s a far cry from the UMass that lost 12 of its first 13 games to start the season.

That recent success has Stone and his players feeling confident and refreshed as they plunge deeper into the home stretch of the schedule.

“I think we’re in a good place mentally,” Stone said. “When you have an opportunity to get a little bit of a streak going playing a game like we did (Wednesday), it makes you feel good about things, gives you a lot more confidence. In baseball, you definitely need that (because) baseball is a game of streaks.”

But La Salle welcomes the Minutemen to Philadelphia on a bit of a hot streak of its own, having won five of seven. The Explorers (15-19, 8-4 A-10) also enter the three-game series on the heels of an emotional, 8-7, walk-off victory over Delaware State on Wednesday.

Though their A-10 rivals sit four games under .500 and have lost five in a row to UMass dating back to 2010, Stone still considers them a formidable foe.

“They’re a good ball club, they’re right up there,” he said. “I think they’re third in the league at this point, so they’ll be a real tough opponent for us.”

While the offense has worked out the kinks in recent weeks, Stone also said it hasn’t been any one factor that’s led to his team’s resurgence heading into the La Salle series.

“It’s a combination,” he said. “We’ve gotten some people who have stepped forward and given us some good innings on the mound. Hitters are starting to come through and executing better in situational-type hitting opportunities. And we’re playing pretty good defense.”

Those good innings were some of the only things that kept UMass afloat during its lean offensive stretches earlier in the season. And with his rotation now starting to round into a form he more or less expected at the beginning, Stone can throw his top-line starters at the Explorers this weekend.

That starts with Andrew Grant (2-4, 4.58 earned run average) pitching Friday’s matchup, Jordan Pace (3-3, 3.20 ERA) throwing Saturday and Conor LeBlanc (0-3, 6.21 ERA) closing out the series on Sunday.

Stone hopes the momentum of the bases-loaded single off the bat of outfielder Kellen Pagel to beat Hartford on Wednesday will carry over into the weekend.

“It’s just a much better (way) of going into a weekend than it would be the other way,” he said. “I definitely think we’re playing much better baseball and we’re a better team than we were two weeks ago.”

And as for the winning streak, Stone says the strategy is to stick with what’s working for now.

“What we try to do is just focus on what our game plan is – being ready to play, playing hard, execution, and having our pitchers go out and give us a chance to win the ball game and get us deep into the game,” he said.

“If we’re ready to play and we execute, we’re gonna feel good about our chances.”

First pitch at DeVincent Field on Friday is scheduled for 3 p.m. with Saturday and Sunday games set for 1 p.m. and noon starts, respectively.

Daniel Malone can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Daniel_Malone.

 

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