Massachusetts baseball finally ready for season opener against Army

By Ross Gienieczko

(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)
(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

Even with a trip scheduled to Kentucky to open the season in a four-game series, the Massachusetts baseball team could not escape the snow and cold. Their flight (and series) was cancelled due to a winter storm in Kentucky, meaning the Minutemen will have to wait until this weekend for their 2015 season to begin in Tampa Bay, Florida as they face off against Army in a four game series.

Senior captain and left-handed starting pitcher Conor LeBlanc is expected to start game one of the year, and he looks improve off a junior season that saw him entrench a spot as the number one starter for the Minutemen. He led the team with 13 starts and 83.2 innings pitched, while his 3.98 earned run average was a career low.

LeBlanc and fellow senior captain, Andrew Grant, give the Minutemen a skilled and experienced one-two punch at the top of the rotation. Grant led the team with 43 strikeouts, and his ERA of 4.79 was also a career low. Together, the duo will show two very different pitching styles to teams – Grant is more of a power pitcher that relies on his fastball and off speed pitches to make hitters miss, while LeBlanc struck out just 21 batters last year and pitches to contact.

“Conor is a guy who is fearless,” UMass coach Mike Stone said. “He throws strikes, he pitches quickly. When you’re playing your first game, you want to have somebody like that.”

On the other side of the plate, UMass hopes to have one of its more dynamic combinations in recent years to boost the team in the middle of the lineup – reigning Atlantic 10 rookie of the year Mike Geannelis and redshirt senior Rob McLam, who returns after missing all of 2014 with a knee injury.

Geannelis led the Minutemen with a .347/.398/.463 line last season (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage), and also led the team with four wins on the mound. Stone has already penciled in the sophomore into the cleanup spot, and said he would be used in a closer/short relief role late in games.

“He’s going to hit,” Stone said. “You can just tell he’s one of those guys that’s going to hit. He is somebody you can count on to come through in the clutch.”

McLam led the team in batting average in 2012 and 2013, and Stone is optimistic he will return to form.

“Rob is a little rusty because he hasn’t played for a year, but he led the team in hitting for two years. Hopefully, he’ll be able to pick it up soon,” Stone said.

UMass has a tough challenge in Army (6-4), who will have a one month head start on the Minutemen by the time the series starts Saturday. The Black Knights have won three of their last four games and are led by a pair of hitters off to hot starts at the plate. Mark McCants leads the team with a .375 batting average, two home runs and 16 runs batted in already, while Jon Rosoff is hitting .350 and leads the team with four doubles. Senior Alex Robinett has been lights out on the mound, posting a record of 2-1 over three appearances. His ERA is a miniscule 0.43, as he has surrendered just one earned run in 21 innings pitched.

The Minutemen are coming off back to back seasons of 30 or more losses, but this year seem to have the pieces in place to return to respectability. LeBlanc and Grant spearhead an experienced rotation, while Geannelis leads a lineup that returns five of its top seven players in RBI and batting average.

They’ll take the first step in that process Saturday at noon in the first game of a doubleheader against Army. The weekend series will take place at Jesuit High School in Tampa Bay.

Ross Gienieczko can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @RossGien.