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 returns to Earl Lorden field for home opener against Holy Cross

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

It’s finally that time of year for baseball in Massachusetts. Spring has officially begun, and basketball sneakers and hockey sticks are being swapped out for baseball gloves and bats.

The weather in Amherst has been mild enough, and the Massachusetts baseball team is scheduled to play its home opener today at 3 p.m. against Holy Cross at Earl Lorden Field.

UMass (3-7) will host the Crusaders (5-12) after a 10-game road trip to open the season. The stay at home will be short lived, as the Minutemen will head back on the road against Davidson in North Carolina as Atlantic 10 play begins.

“It will be great,” coach Mike Stone said of coming back to Amherst to play ball. “Our guys are excited about getting on our field and playing at home. Playing at home coming off a good couple of good ballgames, I think they are excited about getting back on the field and having a chance to keep things going.”

UMass appears to have shaken off the early season struggles after opening the season with loses five straight losses. The Minutemen have won two in a row and three of their last five, outscoring Maine 15-4 in the two-game set just before their return to Amherst. Mother nature put the spoils on what could have been three consecutive victories when a 3-0 third inning lead against Lehigh on Saturday night was erased when the game was cancelled due to rain.

“They have really decided that they want to play with a purpose,” Stone said of his team’s recent strong play. “We had a couple games where we didn’t do much against Harvard. We came back on Friday against Maine and approached it with a real positive, optimistic purpose and went out and made things happen.”

Starting pitchers Ryan Moloney and Justin Lasko have been responsible for the victories on the mound in all three UMass wins. Moloney (1-2), a junior, leads the team in strikeouts (16) and earned run average among starters with a 2.18 mark. Lasko (2-0), a freshman, allowed just one run in eight innings in his weekend outing against the Black Bears (5-14) and has improved in each of his last two starts.

“Ryan helps out everybody – he sets the tone,” Stone said. “He goes out there and carves up the strike zone and has command of all his pitches. He’s very poised, confident, and that has to be contagious when he pitches that well.

“(Lasko) really shut down Maine on Sunday. He did a really good job. Whenever anybody plays well, either offensively or defensively or pitches well on the mound, that’s contagious. That’s the way we want it to continue.”

Monday, Lasko was honored as Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week for his outing against the Black Bears. He allowed just four hits in eight innings of work and didn’t allow a run until the Minutemen already led 10-0.

Strong pitching is not foreign to the back end of the bullpen, either. Reliever Evan Mackintosh picked up his second save of the season this weekend – pitching a scoreless 1.1 innings and striking out two in Friday’s 5-3 victory.

The UMass offensive attack caught fire as well, scoring 27 runs in its last five games compared to the 19 over the opening five. Junior outfielder Dylan Morris, a West Barnstable native, leads the Minutemen in virtually every offensive category – hitting .410, slugging .538, getting on base at a .455 clip (tied with fellow outfield slugger Mike Hart), while scoring and driving in 10 runs each. Morris led UMass Sunday with four hits, three runs batted in and a pair of stolen bases.

“He’s been on a mission every single day to come out here, bust his butt and play hard,” Stone said of his centerfielder. “That’s also contagious. He’s seeing the ball well – taking good, balanced swings at the plate. He’s just making a lot of great things happen. He’s been a sparkplug up there at the top of the lineup.”

Outfielders Morris, Hart and sophomore Hunter Carey (.346) each have batting averages over .300, with senior captain and catcher John Jennings hitting just under that mark at .297. Cooper Mrowka leads the team with three doubles, while Brett Evangelista, Jennings and Morris each have two. Seven Minutemen have driven in more than four runs for UMass, with five slugging over .385.

“The guys at the top (of the lineup) have made things happen, and that’s been contagious too,” Stone said of his offense. “When you have guys having great days, other people want to get in on it too. I think that was the case Sunday with a lot of people.”

Freshman Casey Aubin will get the first home start of his collegiate career today against Holy Cross, which rides a two-game winning streak coming into Amherst. Aubin (0-1) has pitched in two other games this season and holds a hefty 7.11 ERA, and hopes to reverse course and keep UMass on the winning track.

“Baseball’s a game of momentum,” Stone said. “Things are going in a good, positive direction right now and I’m sure they can’t wait to get back on the field.”

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

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