The Massachusetts baseball team had a flare for the dramatic on Wednesday, rallying to defeat Hartford, 4-3, in 10 innings on a picturesque day at Earl Lorden Field.
Former UMass football starting quarterback Kellen Pagel capped off the dramatic extra-inning comeback, lining a pitch down the third base line to score Adam Picard in the bottom of the 10th inning.
The Minutemen (9-18) entered the final frame trailing by a run, in danger of squandering a 2-1 lead that they possessed for most of the game. But Picard delivered a spark when needed the most, singling up the middle to move Rob McLam to third base. Picard advanced to second on the play.
After Hawks (11-22) closer Jeremy Charles walked Dylan Begin, the stage was set for one of the most daring and surprising plays in baseball: the suicide squeeze.
Utility infielder Paul Yanakopulos laid down the bunt which tied the game, dropping the second pitch he saw neatly down the third base line and safely made it to first, setting the stage for Pagel’s bases loaded heroics.
While the play surprised many in the crowd, Yanakopulos knew it was business as usual.
“We practice (the suicide squeeze) quite a bit and going up to the plate I kind of had a feeling (UMass) coach (Mike Stone) would give me the squeeze sign,” Yanakopulos said. “Coach prepares us pretty well and I was just happy to come in and get the job done for us.”
Despite it being his first at bat at the game, Stone was more than comfortable with Yanakopulos batting.
“Perfect guy, it just set up perfectly for us,” Stone said of the situation. “He pays attention to detail, he’s a good short hit-and-run type bunter and he was perfect. I figured I’d let him see one pitch and we’d go from there.”
Pagel, to his credit, followed up the excitement swiftly, delivering the winning hit. Despite the heightened situation, Pagel kept his approach fairly simple.
“Really I was just finding a pitch I could square up, hopefully I could hit it somewhere far enough out of the infield so Picard could tag up and score,” Pagel said.
Pagel, who had two hits on the day, continues to feel more at ease as he transitions from the throwing spirals to hitting fastballs.
“Every at bat I feel a little more settled down,” Pagel said. “Every pitch I see looks a little easier to pick up and everything…I’m getting more comfortable.”
For much of the day the game looked to be decided on the mound, as both teams benefitted fromstrong pitching performances.
D.J. Jauss started for UMass, going six and 2/3 innings, scattering seven hits while allowing two runs. He also struck out three batters, but was unable to secure the lead and allowing Hartford to tie it in the seventh.
Still, Stone was pleased with Jauss’ performance.
“Real good to see,” Stone said of his pitcher. “He kind of struggled early but he settled down and gave us some real good innings. He pitched very well and gave us a chance to win the ballgame.”
Hartford’s Brian Murphy matched Jauss for much of the way out of the bullpen, allowing just a single hit over four and 2/3 innings, while striking out two.
UMass was also strong defensively, turning three double plays while dealing with a difficult sun for most of the afternoon.
The Minutemen have now won four in a row and will take that winning-streak to La Salle for a three game series this weekend.
Mark Chiarelli can be reached at [email protected] and on twitter @Mark_Chiarelli.