Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass baseball gets its long-awaited homecoming Tuesday against Northeastern

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(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Collegian)

As Massachusetts baseball coach Mike Stone touched on before the season began, playing college baseball in New England comes with its fair share of challenges unique to the area that most of teams don’t encounter. In addition to playing its games two weeks after most of Division I kicked off the 2017 season, UMass (6-9, 2-1 Atlantic 10) doesn’t get to play its home opener until 15 games into the season.

This Tuesday, the Minutemen finally get to host a game at Earl Lorden Field with Northeastern visiting the Pioneer Valley.

“It’s nice to have that advantage of just being home, not having to travel,” Stone said. “It’s important. We’ve traveled for a long time so far this season. The fact that you’re home, on a field that you are familiar with, and given more time to prepare because you’re not traveling is a huge advantage.”

Given that the Minutemen play on a grass surface, which Stone considers an abnormality for a Division I program in this region, Lorden Field gives this team a greater home-field advantage than you would typically expect in baseball.

The spring defrost causes quirks in the playing field like lumps in the outfield and a slower-playing infield, conditions UMass is used to working with that visitors wouldn’t have a chance to test out before pregame warmups.

The break from traveling is long awaited for the Minutemen, as most of its games to this point in the season have been played in warmer climates of the South and have included road trips lasting several days.

After a slow start to the season, UMass now sit just three games below .500 and are 2-1 in conference play after winning two of three against George Washington over the weekend.

“I thought we did pretty well with that stanza of the season,” Stone said. “We played Elon tough to start the season and went 4-4 in Florida over spring break. We only played poorly against Holy Cross in one inning in what otherwise was a great game and this weekend we responded to a solid beating on the first day so I feel pretty good right now.”

The challenge now for this group is to keep this momentum going as UMass enters what is arguably the most important phase of the 2017 season as the next month includes the majority of the A-10 schedule.

“When you win games you feel good about the next game and the entire lead up to the game is more enthusiastic,” Stone said of the importance of maintaining the positive momentum. “Baseball is a game of streaks so when you feel good about the way you’re playing you tend to play well.”

The Minutemen will tab sophomore Casey Aubin to start Tuesday’s home opener. The second-year starter has 11 strikeouts in his last nine innings pitched, however, he hasn’t pitched deeper than four innings yet this season.

Short starts have been a frequent problem for UMass this season, and Stone has been forced to go to the bullpen early on a regular basis as a result. For this reason, a huge number of players are used in each game by the coaching staff.

“We need everybody to contribute in a positive way,” Stone said. “It’s not just one or two guys, it’s everybody. You can contribute in a lot of different ways. There was a lot of guys yesterday who just had great at-bats to extend the count and we were able to get the starter out of there and we can count on all of our guys to play with toughness like that.”

The Minutemen hope to show that grit and intensity in front of a home crowd for the first time this Tuesday, as the forecast calls for a continuation of rain and damp weather, with a good chance of getting rescheduled. If that is the case, UMass will have to wait until April 7, to play at home.

Chris Marino can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter: @marinochris_.

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