UMass baseball clinches series vs. Bonnies with Sunday victory

By Victor Pusateri

Rob McLam high fives teammates after scoring another run. (Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)
Rob McLam high fives teammates after scoring another run. (Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

Three weeks after its last series win, the Massachusetts baseball team defeated St. Bonaventure Sunday afternoon in its rubber match, 5-1.

In its last two rubber games before Sunday, UMass (8-11, 7-5 Atlantic 10) lost both to Virginia Commonwealth and George Washington and were outscored 16-2 in the two contests combined.

Brandon Walsh got the nod for the Minutemen as projected starting pitcher Andrew Grant was a last-minute scratch due to hip discomfort. UMass coach Mike Stone downplayed the injury’s severity and said Grant would start Monday’s game against Harvard.

Brandon Walsh (Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)
Brandon Walsh (Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)
Sunday was Walsh’s first start of the season after he pitched 22/3 innings in two games with a 6.75 ERA. He impressed with seven innings of one-hit ball, allowing one run and finishing with five strikeouts en route to earning his first win of the season.

“It’s a big difference, you have to use all of your pitches as a starter, coming in relief is a little different, just coming in throwing hard, throwing strikes,” Walsh said about the transition from reliever to starter. “Keeping them off balance in the beginning is the goal as a starter.”

“Brandon gave us a tremendous performance on the mound,” Stone said. “We didn’t really know what we were going to get with him because he hasn’t really pitched that deep.”

Walsh got comfortable early and credited the defense behind him in helping out.

“I think I did pretty well,” Walsh said. “It was pretty easy, the defense was making a bunch of plays behind me so as a pitcher, it’s a confidence booster when you have eight guys behind you playing defense.”

The junior pitcher didn’t need much offensive support, but got plenty of it as the Minutemen’s offense produced five runs behind timely, two-out hitting.

Second baseman Rob McLam put UMass on the scoreboard in the bottom of the third with a two-out RBI single to take the 1-0 lead.

McLam finished 2-for-3 at the plate with two RBIs and a walk. He picked up his second RBI of the game in the seventh with a one-out double.

In the bottom of the fifth with the bases loaded, junior Mike Geannelis broke the game open with a bases clearing, two-out double that gave UMass a 4-0 lead.

UMass salvages double-header split

Two-out scoring and clutch hitting was also key for the Minutemen in the second game of Saturday’s double header.

After blowing a 3-1 lead late in the opening matchup, a game that UMass ended up losing 4-3, the bats came alive in the back end.

The Minutemen’s offense powered nine runs on nine hits, with six of the runs coming with two outs.

Vinny Scifo (Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)
Vinny Scifo (Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)
Vinny Scifo went 3-for-4 with two RBIs on two-out base hits.

“In the first game I felt we were trying to do too much with it,” Scifo said. “The second game we were just trying to meet the ball, put it in play and make their fielders work. Mainly put good swings on the ball with runners in scoring position.”

Senior Kyle Adie continued his strong season, delivering a two-run triple in the bottom of the third to double the Minutemen’s lead.

After the bullpen failed to hold the lead in game one, it answered with an impressive combined performance from pitchers Ryan Venditti and Ben Panunzio.

Starter Ryan Moloney only lasted 31/3 innings and left the game with runners on first and second. But Venditti came in and got out Moloney’s jam with help from right fielder Adam Picard, who ended the inning by throwing out a runner at home.

Venditti pitched three more innings, striking out six and allowing one run off a solo shot from St. Bonaventure third basemen Thad Johnson. Panunzio finished the game with two scoreless innings.

“That’s exactly what we needed,” Stone said. “You know when your starter doesn’t go very long, you need guys to step up and do the job and those guys did the job.”

UMass drops series opener

After taking a 3-1 lead into the eighth inning, UMass surrendered three runs to the Bonnies in a 4-3 loss in Saturday’s first game of a double header at Earl Lorden Field.

Conor LeBlanc pitched six innings and allowed one run, reliever Kevin Lacy ran into trouble in the eighth, loading the bases for St. Bonaventure. A passed ball and sacrifice fly tied the game and a throwing error by Scifo gave the Bonnies the lead.

Lacy, who surrendered just one run on the season in previous relief appearances, took the loss and fell to 0-1.

St. Bonaventure starter Connor Grey encountered early trouble and after three innings, the Minutemen led 3-0. But the junior settled into a groove and finished with 62/3 innings and 12 strikeouts.

LeBlanc was equally effective, but with a different style. He struck out just four but also did an excellent job keeping hitters off balance. The first few innings were riddled with weak ground balls and hitters had a tough time squaring him up and making any type of solid contact.

The first inning was a classic example of Stone’s “smallball” philosophy. Two hits, a sacrifice bunt, a passed ball and sacrifice fly gave the Minutemen a 2-0 lead, with Bryce Maher and Adie each hitting singles and coming around to score.

But Thad Johnson started off the sixth inning with a double for St. Bonaventure and came around to score on a Tyler Bell RBI single to put the Bonnies on the board. St. Bonaventure took the lead for good in the eighth inning and Johnson pitched two scoreless innings in relief to pick up the save.

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

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