UMass secures spot in Beanpot finals with win over BC

By Taylor C. Snow

Taylor C. Snow/Collegian

Vying for a spot in the Beanpot championship game, the Massachusetts baseball team rallied to overcome an early deficit, beating Boston College 11-6 in a contest saved by the Minutemen bullpen.

UMass (5-17) will look to defend its Beanpot title when it takes on Northeastern in a rematch of last year’s Beanpot final April 29 at Fenway Park.

Conor LeBlanc, who won both Beanpot games last season, had the opportunity to add to his championship success, but faltered early, lacking control and energy out of the gate.

LeBlanc surrendered a leadoff walk to start the game and Eagles (6-26) batters took a patient approach at the plate against the sophomore left-hander. BC hacked away at LeBlanc, batting around the order for four runs in the inning on three hits and three walks.

LeBlanc cleaned up his act in the second with three quick outs, but was pulled after the inning as he neared his maximum pitch count of 45.

UMass coach Mike Stone was somewhat surprised by the way the game started out, seeing the opportunity at stake to play in the championship game at Fenway Park.

“I thought we’d be all fired up,” Stone said. “Our energy level wasn’t strong for the first inning or two, but we picked up. It should mean a lot to play in a championship game at Fenway Park.”

After a scoreless first inning, UMass put some pressure on Eagles starting pitcher Matt Alvarez in the second.

After hitting Adam Picard with a pitch, Alvarez surrendered a single to sophomore first baseman Bryan Dionicio, who made his first collegiate start.

After striking out the next batter, Alvarez then walked Kellen Pagel and John Jennings consecutively, scoring UMass’ first run of the game.

Freshman shortstop Vinny Scifo followed with a singled to right field, driving Dionicio home before Alvarez walked in a run for the second time in the inning, a six pitch walk to Rich Graef as the Minutemen cut the deficit to one run.

Freshman Evan Mackintosh replaced LeBlanc in the third inning as UMass attempted to calm the BC offense.

Mackintosh entered the game with a 12.27 ERA, the worst on the team with a minimum of three innings pitched, but he turned out to be the answer the Minutemen needed.

Quieting the Eagle bats, Mackintosh threw consecutive one-two-three innings along with a scoreless fifth for his first solid collegiate appearance, one which Stone thought was the most critical performance of the game.

“That really was a turning point in the ball game,” Stone said. “We struggled a little bit early and he came in and really kind of slowed (it down for them) offensively.”

Mackintosh, who picked up his first collegiate win, blamed his nerves for the shaky start to his freshman season, but feels that he is finding his comfort zone more as the season goes on.

“I was a little jittery at the beginning of the season,” he said. “But I think now I’m starting to settle in and become more comfortable on the mound.”

In the meantime, UMass’ offense had plenty of time to swipe the lead, which it did easily against a BC pitching staff that has struggled all year.

In the fourth, the Eagles substituted Jesse Adams in for Alvarez, but the Minutemen took advantage of the new arm as they loaded the bases. Picard came up with two outs and delivered the blow of the game, a belted ball that found the left-center field wall on the fly, which the redshirt sophomore legged into a bases-clearing triple as UMass took a 6-4 lead.

The Eagles tried a new arm in the fifth when Austin Solecitto replaced Adams,  but things only got worse from there for BC.

Pagel doubled to the left-center field wall, giving the Minutemen opportunity to strike again with runners in scoring position.

Jennings and Scifo recorded back-to-back singles before Ryan Cusick drew a walk to load the bases.

Graef then reached safely on a suicide squeeze, driving in the eighth run of the game.

Solecitto then walked in the ninth run before being relieved, making it through only a third of an inning. The Minutemen scored two more runs in the inning as they took a commanding 11-4 lead, surpassing their previous game-high run total of 10.

“It was great to see us coming through with people in scoring position. We made things happen,” Stone said. “The two guys who hadn’t played too much, Pagel and Dionicio stayed late (Tuesday), got some extra hitting, found themselves in the lineup and had a great day.

Pagel and Dionicio combined for three of UMass’ 10 hits, two RBIs and three runs on the afternoon.

With the commanding lead, the Minutemen bullpen followed in Mackintosh’s footsteps and continued to pitch well for the most part.

DJ Jauss came in for an inning and a third and gave up two runs to the Eagles, but Aaron Plunkett and Ron Wallace finished off the remaining two and two thirds innings without surrendering a hit.

“They all did a really good job,” Stone said of the bullpen. “Most of the time you just need to throw strikes. If you can do that, command your pitches and mix it a little bit, then you have a chance to pitch pretty well.”

For some of the Minutemen, such as Mackintosh, the opportunity to move on to play at Fenway has yet to sink in to their minds, but will surely be a game to remember.

“It hasn’t really settled in yet, but when we get there I think that’s when we’ll actually find out what it really means to play under the lights at Fenway,” Mackintosh said. “It’s gonna be sick, everyone dreams to play there as a little kid.”

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