Trailing by four runs after only one inning of play, the Massachusetts baseball team faced a fight or flight moment.
With its Beanpot title at Fenway Park on the line, UMass opened Wednesday’s game flat, allowing Boston College to jump to an early lead. Starter Conor LeBlanc, operating on a 45 pitch limit, struggled through two innings, allowing four runs.
UMass coach Mike Stone was both surprised and concerned about his team’s energy level to begin the ballgame.
“I thought we’d be all fired up, but our energy level wasn’t strong enough in the first inning or two. … It should mean a lot to have a chance to play the championship at Fenway Park,” Stone said.
But his team answered the call, making Eagles starter Matt Alvarez throw a lot of pitches in the second inning before surrendering three runs. The Minutemen remained calm and focused at the plate, working pitch counts and forcing Boston College pitchers to throw strikes on a day where walks were plentiful.
“They were walking a lot of people and I thought we laid off some borderline pitches and eventually got some pitches to hit and made some things happen,” Stone said of BC.
Things certainly did happen for UMass, which slugged 11 runs in the contest, a season high. It was the type of full team effort the Minutemen have been searching for all season.
Adam Picard delivered the loudest hit of the day, driving a two-out offering by Eagles pitcher Jesse Adams to the base of the wall in left field for a three-run triple.
But UMass stepped up in other areas as well, as a cast of under-the-radar players left an imprint on the first-round game.
Seldom used first basemen Bryan Dionicio collected two hits while also driving in two runs, former Minutemen quarterback Kellen Pagel scored two runs and Paul Yanakopulos made a diving play at third base, where he filled in for Nik Campero who did not play due to a violation of team rules, for an out.
However, freshman southpaw Evan Mackintosh stole the show, relieving LeBlanc and mixing pitches well to silence a brewing BC offensive attack en route to his first collegiate victory.
Mackintosh allowed two batters to reach base in three spotless innings of relief, cruising through what Stone would refer to as “the turning point of the game.” According to Mackintosh, his performance was due to the total team effort.
“I came in and the defense did a good job,” Mackintosh said. “I just threw strikes and the team played good defense behind me, couldn’t ask for anything better than that.
Despite only having four appearances this year, Mackintosh knows he’s come a long way in his first year.
“I think being able to trust my pitches and knowing when you have confidence goes a long way,” Mackintosh said. “Being able to trust your team, the eight players behind you, and being able to trust your pitches and throw them in every single count, that’s big.”
Now UMass has the chance to play at America’s Most Beloved Ballpark for the Beanpot championship.
“It hasn’t really settled in yet but when we get there I think that’s actually when we find out what it means to play under the lights at Fenway,” Mackintosh said. “Everyone dreams of playing there as a kid, it will be nice to be under those lights playing for a game that finally matters.”
Mark Chiarelli can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli.