Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass baseball stumbles against Siena

By Mark Chiarelli

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Alex Aritan/Collegian

Following a home weekend series victory over the New Jersey Institute of Technology, the Massachusetts baseball team looked to carry that momentum onto the road, where it has yet to record a victory in 2013.

But UMass’ comeback bid fell flat Monday, as the Minutemen were unable to piece together timely hitting in the late stages of an 8-4 loss to Siena.

Despite loading the bases in the top half of the ninth inning, center fielder Jeff Cavanaro struck out looking, ending any idea of late-inning magic.

UMass (3-14, 0-3 Atlantic 10) showed signs of life after second baseman Ryan Cusick reached on an error to begin the final inning. Walks from first baseman Nik Campero and pitcher Adam Picard eventually loaded the bases, prompting the Saints (8-18) to bring in closer Neil Fryer to extinguish the rally.

The Minutemen presented their biggest threat in the eighth inning when they closed the Saints’ lead to 6-4 after Cavanaro scored on a wild pitch. But Siena answered in the bottom half of the eighth, as first baseman Larry Balkwill continued to terrorize UMass pitching, driving in two runs on a one-out single to make it an 8-4 lead. Balkwill finished the day with three hits to go along with three RBIs.

The inability to generate crucial outs and get out of innings plagued UMass coach Mike Stone’s pitching staff, which combined for seven walks and only one strikeout.

“We struggled to throw strikes and gave up too many hits in certain innings,” Stone said. “We certainly would’ve liked to get out of the eighth down 6-4 instead 8-4.”

The Minutemen faced an uphill battle from the beginning after the Saints jumped out to a 3-0 lead against UMass starter Aaron Plunkett. A combination of four singles and one walk resulted in Siena taking an early lead, as Plunkett struggled to maintain control in the first inning, which Stone referred to as a “tough struggle.”

Plunkett allowed five runs on six hits while walking four batters in four innings of work. He also hit one batter and failed to record a strikeout.

Early offensive struggles compounded the difficult start on the mound.

“We were slow starting and I felt like we wasted six innings worth of at-bats,” Stone said.

“After the Saints tacked on three separate runs to take a 6-0 lead, the Minutemen offense responded in the seventh inning with three runs off Siena starter Bryan Goossens on a barrage of RBI singles. Shortstop Vinny Scifo, designated hitter Rob McLam, and Campero all knocked in runs in the top half of the seventh.

“We hadn’t done anything all day, and (in the seventh inning) we woke up a little bit and started to play,” Stone said. “We had some chances, unfortunately we didn’t capitalize enough.”    The UMass offense stranded 11 runners on base despite accumulating 10 hits. Hitting with runners in scoring position has been a recent focus for the team.

“We talked about a mindset and not trying to do too much at the plate,” Stone said. “As a hitter, that’s where you want to be. It’s much more fun to hit with people in scoring position than when they’re not.”

The Minutemen will travel to Boston to take on Northeastern on Wednesday.
           

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

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