Clutch hitting leads UMass baseball to wins early in season

By Ross Gienieczko

Adam Picard (Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)
Adam Picard (Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

There are many things that go into consistently winning baseball games. Starters have to go deep into the game more often than not, relievers must get big outs with runners on base and defense and base running both have to be fundamentally sound.

But none of these elements have the impact that hitting with runners in scoring position does. Take a look at the top teams at any level of baseball. It’s evident the key to winning games in bunches is executing in big moments.

This weekend against St. Bonaventure, the Massachusetts baseball team took advantage of its opportunities with runners on base – particularly with two outs – to take two of three games against the Bonnies and win its first true home series of the year.

“We’ve done that a lot,” UMass coach Mike Stone said after Sunday’s 5-1 win. “It shows a lot of character and toughness to be able to execute with two outs.”

In Sunday’s rubber match, UMass sophomore Mike Geannelis came up to bat in the bottom of the fifth with the bases loaded, two outs and the Minutemen up 1-0. It was an opportunity that could define the weekend – a hit would put UMass well on its way to victory and a series win, while an out would energize St. Bonaventure and let starter Brandon Schlimm off the hook after running into trouble.

Geannelis belted a bases-clearing double to deep right field to break the game open for the Minutemen.

“(Geannelis) was struggling all weekend to put good swings on the ball and he finally settled down,” Stone said. “He took a couple good swings, barreled up on the ball and found a hole in the outfield.”

It was the type of moment that makes a difference between winning games and losing them. It was also the type of execution the 2014 UMass team seemed unable to provide consistently. The Minutemen went 15-31 last year, including a 5-10 record in one-run games.

This year, however, UMass is off to a better start than in past seasons. The Minutemen are 8-11 but 7-5 so far in the Atlantic 10 – well on its way to passing the 11 conference wins it notched in 2014.

“It gives us a lot of momentum,” shortstop Vinny Scifo said. “It’s tough falling behind and working your way back. When you get a good start, it’s easier to take it into the next game.”

In game two of Saturday’s doubleheader, Scifo was 2-for-2 with runners in scoring position and two outs with an RBI double in the second inning and RBI single in the third. His efforts helped give UMass an 8-4 lead after just three innings; the four-run difference represented the winning margin in the game.

“I tried to stay short and quick to the ball, basically meet the ball rather than over-swing,” Scifo said.

Scifo spoke of a message Stone gave the team after its series-opening loss to the Bonnies Saturday morning: simplify.

“Coach mentioned it after our first game this week… we just had to be prepared with two strikes and not try to do too much,” Scifo said.

Senior center fielder Kyle Adie also shined with two outs and runners on base. The team leader in hits and batting average doubled in the second inning and tripled in the third of game two Saturday, driving in three runs.

On Sunday, it was Geannelis and redshirt senior Rob McLam with the big hits. McLam put the Minutemen on the board in the third inning, singling to right field with two outs and a runner in scoring position. He added an RBI double in the seventh inning with a runner on second to restore UMass’ four-run lead after the Bonnies struck for a run in the top half of the inning.

With this much clutch hitting going around, the Minutemen are off to their best start in conference play since 2012 when UMass started 8-4 in the A-10.

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

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