Mike Hart off to red-hot start for UMass baseball

By Kyle DaLuz


(Collegian File Photo)
(Collegian File Photo)

The 2016 campaign has not started how the Massachusetts team had hoped. The Minutemen were swept in their three-game series this past weekend in Charleston, South Carolina to Charleston Southern – failing to win an opening weekend game for the third consecutive season.

“We hit the ball and scored some runs,” UMass coach Mike Stone said regarding his team’s performance against CSU. “I think we built a lot of confidence. You just need to get acclimated. It doesn’t happen automatically. You need to get outside and start playing – see some fly balls and some live pitching. It takes some time to get acclimated.”

The silver lining in another slow start for UMass has been the play of junior designated hitter and outfielder Mike Hart. Hart caught fire in the opening series for the Minutemen hitting .455, slugging .636 and reaching base at a .500 clip, which leads the team in all three categories along with total bases.

“He’s a scrapper, a worker – He plays the game hard,” Stone said. “(Hart) makes things happen offensively. Not only did he swing the bat well, he’s the kind of guy that can find a way to get on (base) in a number of different ways. That’s what we need to see more of throughout our lineup. He really started squaring the ball up a lot – especially in the third game. He’s just looked really good…I expect that if he’s in there (the lineup), we’re going to be tough top to bottom and that will kind of spread a little bit to other people in a positive way, and hopefully that will catch on.”

The Lowell, Massachusetts native played in 21 games last season for UMass, and started just 10. Hart hit .233 last season, which was ninth best on the roster, but was one of six players to hit a home run. Hart’s bat and offensive power are essential for the Minutemen if they hope to put together a winning season.

With the losses of offensive leaders Kyle Adie, Rob McLam and Adam Picard, UMass will need ample help in front of catcher and first baseman John Jennings, shortstop Vinny Scifo and pitcher and first baseman Mike Geannelis, among others in the lineup to aid in scoring runs.

“I have a lot of confidence this year – more than I had before,” Hart said. “Coach (Stone) put me in a spot where I have a chance to succeed. I’m not going out there hoping I can get a hit this year. I’m going out there with a lot of confidence – knowing I can get a hit.”

Some of that confidence was found away from the UMass campus. Hart played in the Inner City League this summer, where he led the league in almost every offensive category including his .506 batting average.

“I just started to see the ball deeper,” Hart added. “Especially with my coach in summer ball, he had all the confidence in me. Coach (Stone) is letting me do that this year. Trying to keep my swing down, I’m just seeing the ball deeper and having more confidence – I’m not just jumping at pitches.”

Stone has inserted Hart into the number three spot in the lineup, typically awarded to the best hitter on the team. Coach Stone has all the confidence in his designated hitter’s abilities.

“He looks good at the plate,” Stone added. “He’s got good balance. He’s a competitor at the plate. I think he likes his role, hitting number three. He should get better and better.”

Kyle DaLuz can be reached at [email protected].