UMass baseball uses season-high 17 hits in win over CCSU

By Stephen Sellner

The Massachusetts baseball team sprayed a season-high 17 hits and extended its winning streak to three games as it outlasted Central Connecticut State, 9-5, Tuesday at Earl Lorden Field in a game plagued by scattered showers and gusting winds.

Stephen Hewitt/Collegian

The Minutemen (8-18, 3-6 Atlantic 10) led 6-5 in the bottom of the eighth inning before Dylan Begin hit a triple with the bases loaded to drive in three insurance runs. Dan Stoops closed the door with 2.2 perfect innings out of the bullpen to help secure the non-conference win.

Rich Graef went 4-for-5 for UMass, while Ryan Cusick and Begin tallied three hits apiece.

Begin’s triple, which came after singles by Cusick and Graef, followed by a four-pitch walk by Rob McLam, broke the game open.

“It feels good when you can hit the ball like that, but we had 17 hits today so it was more than just my hit,” Begin said. “We played real well as a team; confidence definitely is high right now, which is great.”

But it was relief pitcher Dan Stoops who stepped up in the biggest spot of the game.

The game was tied in the top of the seventh when the Blue Devils (15-16, 8-8 Northeast Conference) loaded the bases off UMass reliever Evan Mackintosh with only one out. Coach Mike Stone called in Stoops from the bullpen and the sophomore responded in grand fashion, fanning Jeff Osak looking on a knee-buckling breaking ball and inducing J.P. Sportman to foul out to retire the side and close the door on CCSU’s threat.

The Minutemen reclaimed the lead for good in the bottom of the frame with a Josh Jennings sacrifice fly. Jennings had four RBIs on the afternoon.

Stoops said he wasn’t focusing on the magnitude of the moment when he made the trot to the mound.

“I was just focusing on hitting my spots, keeping the ball low and there was a pretty heavy wind out there today, some long balls, but I just kept it low and felt good today,” Stoops said.

He finished off the final two innings to pick up his first win of the season.

“Huge spot, especially for a young kid who didn’t get to pitch much last year to come in like that is huge, huge innings for us,” Begin said. “I can’t say enough about the pitchers this year. I mean, they’ve come in and pitched real well for us, so they’ve been keeping us in a lot of ballgames.”

Aaron Plunkett picked up a no-decision in the start for the Minutemen, logging six innings while allowing five runs (two earned) on eight hits and two walks.

UMass was up 4-1 until the fifth when things started to unravel. Plunkett retired the first two batters before Tyler McIntyre belted a solo shot for the Blue Devils to cut the deficit to two. Cusick then dropped a pop-up and Plunkett walked Mike Washburn to put runners on first and second.

Josh Ingham then singled to left field to plate one run, but the throw from the outfield got past third baseman Nik Campero and allowed the second runner to come all the way around to score.

Stone felt the sloppiness was due to his team sitting on the lead and hoping the game would be called early when the rain started to pick up, which would’ve resulted in a Minuteman victory.

“It was almost as if we expected somebody to call the game and that wasn’t gonna happen,” Stone said.

UMass didn’t waste any time getting started in this one. The Minutemen grabbed four runs in the bottom of the first, ripping five hits and sending all nine batters to the plate in the frame.

McLam laced an RBI double off the left-centerfield wall to bring home Graef to get UMass on the board. Adam Picard followed with a liner back up the middle to send in McLam.

Four batters later, John Jennings ripped a single to left with the bases loaded to bring home a pair and put the Minutemen up 4-0, as Blue Devils starter Tom Coughlin needed 42 pitches to get through the first.

UMass won despite committing four errors, which Begin linked to the wet field. Plunkett frequently picked the mud out of his cleats in between batters and the grounds crew worked on the landing spot on the mound. CCSU pitcher Michael Pastone nearly fell off the mound and couldn’t even deliver his pitch after his cleat got stuck in the mud.

The Minutemen go for four in a row Wednesday when they host Hartford at 3 p.m.

Stephen Sellner can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Stephen_Sellner.