UMass baseball wins fifth straight

By Ross Gienieczko

(Christina Yacono/Daily Collegian)
(Christina Yacono/Daily Collegian)

With two outs and runners on second and third in the seventh inning, Massachusetts first baseman Mike Geannelis stepped up to the plate with the Minutemen leading Hartford 2-1. After missing 10 games with an undisclosed injury, the sophomore and reigning Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year’s batting average stood at .189, and Geannelis had driven in just five runs on the season.

He blasted a double into the right-center gap to drive in Kyle Adie and Paul Yanakopulos, and increased the UMass lead to 4-1. Those runs would prove to be the difference in the game, as the Minutemen held off an eighth inning rally from the Hawks to pull out a 4-3 win and get back to .500 on the season.

It was the fifth straight win for UMass (11-11, 7-5 Atlantic 10), and the second time in three games the team has won a one-run game. The Minutemen were 5-10 in such affairs in 2014, but are 5-2 in games decided by a single tally early in their 2015 campaign.

“We’ve been playing good baseball. We’ve been executing,” UMass coach Mike Stone said after the game. “We played a real good game up until the eighth inning there, when we didn’t execute a few things on defense and made it more difficult on ourselves than it should’ve been.”

In the top of the eighth, Hartford had two outs and a runner on second base. A ground ball to second baseman Bryce Maher seemed poised to end the inning, but the freshman could not make the play. It allowed Trey Stover to score from second and put Ben Bengtson on base. Bengtson advanced to third base on a single, and ended up scoring on a wild pitch that also moved the tying run to second.

But Minutemen shortstop Vinny Scifo made a diving stop on a ground ball up the middle, leapt to his feet and made a strong throw to first to secure the final out of the inning and preserve a one run lead for UMass.

“It was a pretty good game,” Stone said. “We made a few big plays, Ryan Venditti gave us a good effort on the mound … it was a good win. It’s good to win the one run ballgames.”

Venditti made his first start of the season, and cruised through six innings on the mound. The redshirt freshman right-hander from Westborough scattered three hits over six complete while striking out seven and walking just one. The only run Venditti allowed was unearned, and he earned his second win of the season to move to 2-0.

Venditti was candid about his success in his first start of the year.

“It was pretty simple, just getting ahead with everything,” Venditti said. “I threw all my pitches for strikes for the most part, down in the zone.”

Stone also praised the freshman’s performance.

“He threw strikes, kept the ball down … had command of his breaking ball and managed his fastball and changeup,” Stone said. “He worked ahead, worked fast, and kept hitters off balance.”

Ben Panunzio entered the game in relief in the seventh inning, and retired Hartford in order. He allowed two unearned runs in the eighth inning, and Evan Mackintosh replaced him in the ninth, cruising to a one-two-three inning to earn his second save of the year.

Defensive errors provided the scoring early in the game. The Minutemen took a 1-0 lead in the second inning after Hawks shortstop Trey Stover threw the ball away while trying to record the final out of the inning at second base. UMass second baseman Rob McLam dropped with two outs in the fourth allowed Hartford to tie the game 1-1.

But after Scifo walked and stole second in the fifth, Adie doubled down the right field line and the Minutemen regained their lead. They chased Hawks pitcher Ben Brown (0-1) from the game, and Jeremy Charles entered in his place. He held UMass scoreless in the sixth, setting the stage for Geannelis’s clutch double in the seventh.

After missing a big chunk of the beginning of the year, Geannelis feels he’s getting more comfortable at the plate.

“It’s been a slow start for me, but it’s definitely good to get some hits like that,” Geannelis said. “It’s all timing, it’s all being soft on my front foot.”

It was the fifth straight win for the Minutemen, but Venditti and Geannelis are already looking to the weekend after the game.

“We’ve strung a couple together, but we’re heading into a big weekend though,” Venditti said.

“We’re rolling right now. We have a lot of confidence, a lot of momentum, but we need some big wins this weekend,” Geannelis added.

UMass will travel to St. Louis for a three-game series of conference matchups against the Billikens. First pitch on Friday in the opener is set for 6 p.m. at Billiken Sports Center in St. Louis.

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