Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass baseball heads to Charleston Southern this weekend for three-game series to kickoff 2016 season.

Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian
(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

Charleston, South Carolina sounds like a lot better place to be snagging fly balls and trying to lay down suicide squeezes this time of year than in the ever-changing climate of Massachusetts.

It’s finally that time of year for the Massachusetts baseball team. The Minutemen will begin their 2016 campaign this Friday, March 4 in Charleston with a three-game series against the Charleston Southern Cougars.

“We’re excited about it,” UMass coach Mike Stone – who will be coaching his 29th season with the Minutemen – said in anticipation for the upcoming season, “We’ve had a good preseason and the guys are working hard. We’re looking forward to it.”

The Cougars (3-5) are already well into their season, having hosted West Virginia and Butler at Joe Riley Park. Charleston Southern traveled to Georgia this week to take on the Bulldogs for a quick two-game set, losing the first game 10-3 Tuesday, and will have eight games under its belt before returning home to host UMass.

Junior Ryan Moloney will take the ball in the opener for the Minutemen Friday. The 6-foot-2 right hander hailing from Londonderry, New Hampshire started 10 games for UMass last season, and finished with a 4-4 record, 4.52 earned run average, with 32 strikeouts in 63.2 innings.

“It feels good,” Moloney said of getting the ball in the season opener. “It’s the first time I’ve opened up the year. It’s exciting, very exciting. I had a few amount of starts last year, which went pretty well.

“I’m hoping to build off that and have some success.”

Senior captain John Jennings will be calling the game for Moloney behind the plate. Jennings appeared in just 18 games last season due to a torn left hamstring, but is ready to bounce back and finish his collegiate career as a Minuteman strong.

“It’s super exciting – being upstairs (in Boyden Gymnasium) gets old,” Jennings joked. “It’s so exciting. Last year was so frustrating having to go there (to games) and watch the whole time, not that I don’t like watching my teammates and cheering them on, but not being out there and being able to help them out was definitely tough.

Jennings added: “I’m really excited. This being my last season, I definitely want to have a good one.”

Stone said he is unsure who will be taking the mound in games two and three.

Sophomore Brett Evangelista will be in center field with junior Dylan Morris occupying left field come Friday night for UMass, while it is unclear whether sophomore Hunter Carey or junior Mike Hart will start in right field.

Positions battles are not foreign to the infield, either. Vinny Scifo, who hit .241, with 10 RBIs and finished second on the 2015 team with 22 runs scored, started each of the Minutemen’s 43 games last season, will be battling freshman Ryan Lever for the starting nod at shortstop. Lever is not the lone freshman up for an infield spot, as Cooper Mrowka and Matt Hosman are the two candidates for the starting job at first base.

Junior Jon Avallone, who played in 12 games last season, will be the starting third baseman with fellow junior Bryce Mahar (.221, 10 runs and nine RBIs in 30 games) starting at second.

UMass started last season dropping five straight, and will look to get off to a strong start in 2016.

“It’s important as far as individual confidence as well as the team’s confidence,” Stone said. “You have to be confident to be successful in baseball. To get off to a good, positive start is very important.”

“I think getting a win on the first weekend would be huge for us,” Jennings said. “I feel like for us, we don’t start hitting our stride until Atlantic 10 play starts. I feel like at that point we’re behind everyone else, so getting off on the right foot would definitely be an advantage for us this season.”

“We just need to set the tone early,” Moloney added. “On the mound, at the plate – and I think we will. We’ve looked good inside. We’ve been hitting the ball; we’ve been hitting spots on the mound. It all comes down to setting the tone early.”

Kyle DaLuz can be reached at [email protected], and followed on Twitter @Kyle_DaLuz.

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