Paul Yanakopulos leads UMass to win with suicide squeeze

By Taylor C. Snow

Cade Belisle/Collegian

Down one run to in the bottom of the 10th, bases loaded and one out on Wednesday afternoon, Massachusetts baseball coach Mike Stone reached into his back pocket and pulled out the riskiest play in the book: a suicide squeeze.

After coming off the bench in the ninth to pinch-run, Paul Yanakopulos, who Stone referred to as the “perfect guy” for the situation, walked to the plate for his first plate appearance of the game.

After taking the first pitch, a called first strike, Yanakopulos squatted, bat raised to his chest, and laid a perfect bunt down the third base line.

Rob McLam left third without hesitation and crossed home plate for the tying run as Yanakopulos reached first base safely. The next batter up, Kellen Pagel, singled in the winning run as the Minutemen (9-18, 3-6 Atlantic 10 Conference) won their fourth straight contest.

But it was the small-ball –  a concept that Stone lives by – that was key to the 4-3 win over Hartford (11-22, 8-6 America East Conference).

“It was just set up real well for us,” Stone said. “Paul is the type of guy, to squeeze and tie it up, that we really have a lot of confidence in. He’s a short game type guy and he’s a diligent bunter, so I figured (we’d go for it.)”

The suicide squeeze – arguably one of the riskiest, most-exciting plays in baseball – is a play that Stone loves, and certainly does not fear using with the game on the line.

“You just have to be aggressive and you gotta practice (the squeeze),” he said. “You gotta know your personnel and you gotta take your chances once in a while. It was a game that we almost lost and I figured we had to do something more aggressive to give ourselves a chance to get up over the hump.”

For the sophomore utility-man, it was a situation that he has practiced extensively and the results showed as his bunt hugged the third base line, allowing the tying run to score.

“Going up to the plate I kind of had a feeling that coach was going to give the squeeze sign,” Yanakopulos said. “He prepares us pretty well, we practice it a lot of times and I was just happy to be able to come up and get it done for us.”

Offense continues to roll

Coming into the six-game homestand, UMass’ offense was struggling significantly, sporting a team average of .222. After finishing the stand on Tuesday, the Minutemen appear to be playing like a different team as their cumulative average has skyrocketed to .249 over the past week.

Through 21 games, UMass only had five games in which they tallied at least 10 hits. In the last six games, the Minutemen have doubled that total, putting up five double-digit hit games and totaling 68 hits during the homestand.

Though the team only has five home runs on the season, Stone attributes the lineup’s strength for the sudden hitting surge.

“We’ve got a bigger stronger lineup in there,” Stone said. “Guys who have the threat of hitting the ball over somebody’s head.”

Members of the lineup, such as Adam Picard – who had a multi-hit game on Wednesday and collected two home runs and eight runs-batted-in on the homestand – attributes the recent offensive success to being more patient at the plate.

“I think we’re just taking quality at bats,” Picard said. “At the beginning of the season we were kind of too jacked up. We were having not really great at bats, we were swinging at (too many) pitches. But now we’re seeing the pitches that we need to see and swinging at the balls we need to swing at.”

Taylor Snow can be reached at [email protected] and can be followed on Twitter @taylorcsnow.