UMass baseball snaps three-game losing streak in win over UConn

By Tom Mulherin

(Daniel Maldonado/ Daily Collegian)
(Daniel Maldonado/ Daily Collegian)

Every time the Massachusetts baseball team would play Connecticut back before his passing in 1998, the late Tom Bishko – a long-tenured equipment manager for the University – would make it a point to tell coach Mike Stone, “you have to beat UConn.”

In much needed fashion, the Minutemen (8-17, 2-7 Atlantic 10) did exactly that Tuesday afternoon, as their offense propelled them past their non-conference rival to a convincing 9-5 victory at Earl Lorden Field.

After getting swept by Saint Joseph’s over the weekend, winning a game like this one against the Huskies (19-16, 5-3 American Athletic Conference) was just what UMass needed. And following the game, Stone immediately recalled Bishko’s advice.

“Whenever you have a chance to beat UConn, it’s a good day,” Stone said. “(The win) was much needed for a lot of reasons. For your own mental health, for just moral, everything. You always feel much better when you play well.”

The score remained even at two runs apiece through the first three innings. The Minutemen broke the game open in the fourth with a four-run outburst featuring a barrage of hits, a few walks and three-run double from Dylan Morris, forcing UConn to use three pitchers in the frame to get out of the jam.

Morris fell a home run short of hitting for the cycle, batting 3-for-5 with five runs batted in and two runs scored. That performance accompanied John Jennings’ two-hit, three-RBI effort, Stone had nothing but positive things to say about two of his better hitters.

“They came through with some people in scoring position, it was great to see,” he said. “When Morris was hitting early, we were doing well, and the same thing with John Jennings. I think when those two guys go, that makes the team go. That’s what we definitely need, to have those guys step up and drive people in like that.”

“We kind of fell into a little skid, but it felt good to get back on the winning track,” Morris said of how he felt about his performance. “I’m just glad I could do everything I could to help the team win.”

UMass starter Brandon Walsh – in his first start of the season – cruised through the first four innings allowing just two runs, but didn’t respond well to the increased time on the bench in the fourth. Walsh nearly blew his lead in the fifth, allowing three runs on four hits and two walks. His second walk loaded the bases with just one out for the Huskies, but he got out of the jam by forcing Tyler Gnesda to ground into a double play up the middle.

Despite the lapse, Walsh went on to pitch six innings of five-run ball and amassed 110 pitches. That’s all the Minutemen needed from their starter, as Kevin Hassett and Evan Mackintosh combined for three innings of scoreless relief to secure the win. This came in contrast to UConn, which needed eight different pitchers in order to get the job done. None of them lasted more than 2 1/3 innings.

“I felt good, and it felt good to have some run support too,” Walsh said of his start. “It made it easier to go out there and compete. (I was) keeping the ball low, getting ahead of hitters. After that, I just let (UConn) hit the ball, put the ball in play. I left a few balls up, (had) some mistakes, but it was good overall (for my) first start.”

Tom Mulherin can be reached at [email protected]