UMass baseball opens A-10 play with series victory, but falls in Sunday’s finale

By Christopher Corso

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Nicole Evangelista/Daily Collegian

Nicole Evangelista/Daily Collegian

The Massachusetts baseball team showed signs of life at the perfect time.

After losing all but one of the first 13 games of 2014, the Minutemen won two out of three games against La Salle to open their Atlantic 10 conference schedule in Philadelphia this weekend.

Prior to the series, UMass senior first baseman Dylan Begin said that the team would use the tough start in a positive light heading into A-10 play.

“I think the tough start has really showed us how to fight and how to show heart especially when you’re down and losing. It shows a lot of character and I think our team can build on that character,” said first baseman Dylan Began, who went 3-for-10 at the plate with a home run and two runs batted in for the series. “It gives everyone a chance to get some confidence and we’ll build on that as a team.”

UMass coach Mike Stone was happy with the first two conference wins, but was focused on the 3-0 loss to the Explorers that was “fresh in his mind” Sunday afternoon and seemed disappointed with his team’s performance in the last game of the series.

“We had some pretty good wins on Friday and Saturday, so I thought we would take it to them today and that just didn’t happen,” Stone said. “You know you can’t feel good about what we did today. Our effort was not good offensively and it was a disappointing result. If you get a chance to sweep somebody you have to be more aggressive.”

The Minutemen’s (3-13, 2-1 A-10) offense came to a halt Sunday after scoring 16 runs in the first two games of the series. La Salle (4-18, 1-2 A-10) starter Shawn O’Neill allowed just one hit, four walks and fanned eight UMass batters in six scoreless innings. The Minutemen collected just three hits for the game.

The Explorers scored first for the third-consecutive game tacking on a run when Kevin Baron scored on a fielder’s choice in the first inning.

La Salle added a pair of insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth on two costly errors by UMass pitchers Aaron Plunkett.

“We had a defensive lapse in the eighth inning and that put them up 3-0 as opposed to being down just one,” Stone said. “We made it more difficult for ourselves. You can pretty much say we beat ourselves (Sunday).”

Sophomore Tom Fazzini and redshirt junior Adam Cherry combined for three innings of relief to complete the shutout for the Explorers.

Pagel homers to lift UM

With the game tied at 5-5, senior Kellen Pagel hit a three-run home run a push the Minutemen past La Salle 8-6 in the second game of the series at Hank DeVincent Field Saturday.

La Salle struck first again with two runs in the opening frame. Mark Williams drove in George Smith Jr. on a sacrifice fly out and Justin Korenblatt scored on an error by second baseman Nick Sanford.

Freshman Dylan Morris hit a bases loaded two-run single in the in the bottom of the second inning to tie the game and Sanford drove in Vinny Scifo on a fielder’s choice to give UMass a 3-2 lead.

“We were behind again and we bounced back and continued to keep on with the offensive pressure from the first game (Saturday),” Stone said.

The Explorers quickly tied the score at three after Baron scored on an error by right fielder Adam Picard after hitting a leadoff double for La Salle.

The Minutemen and La Salle traded two-run innings to send the game to the bottom of the sixth tied at 5-5.

Following Pagel’s first-career home run, sophomore Brandon Walsh earned the win after throwing for 3.1 innings of relief. He surrendered just one run on two hits and a walk.

Senior D.J. Jauss picked up his first save of the season with a scoreless ninth.

Minutemen win A-10 opener

UMass scored two runs in the bottom of the 10th inning to defeat the Explorers 7-6 in comeback fashion.

After singles by John Jennings and Campero, Picard roped a two-out base hit to right field to tie the score at 6-6. Campero then scored on O’Neill’s wild pitch to give the Minutemen the walk-off victory.

“We did a great job when the pressure was on,” Stone said. “We were energetic, we made things happen for ourselves. We showed good character coming back twice and then eventually winning the game.”

UMass trailed the Explorers until the Picard’s game-tying RBI. Starting pitcher Conor LeBlanc surrendered five runs and 10 hits in his five innings pitched.

The Minutemen trailed 5-1 until the bottom of the fifth when put together a two-out three-run rally that was capped off by three-consecutive singles by Kyle Adie, junior Paul Yanakopulos and freshman Mike Geannelis.

Chris Corso can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @ChrisCorso5.