UMass baseball takes two out of three in weekend series with La Salle

By Christopher Marino

Men’s Baseball against Northeastern U. in the Beanpot Tournament at Fenway Park, Boston on April 19, 2017. Caroline O’Connor/Daily Collegian)

Sitting two games back of the final spot in the postseason Atlantic 10 baseball tournament entering the series, the Massachusetts baseball team grabbed two key conference wins against LaSalle in Philadelphia this past weekend.

Behind strong starting pitching and timely offense, the Minutemen (11-22, 6-6 A-10)  beat LaSalle (8-29, 1-11 A-10)  on Friday 6-2, and in the second half of the doubleheader on Sunday 3-0 to move into the seventh place in the A-10. With 12 games left to play, UMass is now tied with Saint Louis for the final spot in the postseason tournament.

Minutemen split doubleheader

In the second game of the doubleheader on Sunday, Mike Geannelis shut down LaSalle hitters with a complete-game shutout that keyed a 3-0 Minutemen victory late Sunday afternoon.

After registering a run as UMass’ designated hitter earlier in the day, Geannelis struck out nine LaSalle batters and gave up five hits on 107 pitches to give the Minutemen the rubber match of the weekend series.

“A real gutsy performance, he pitched extremely well,” UMass coach Mike Stone said. “He got out of jams and really did a great job all the way through. His slider and fastball were working and he pitched tough, executing pitches in tight spots.”

The first seven innings of Geannelis’ performance was in the midst of one-run baseball, after jumping on top to an early 1-0 lead in the top of the first. The Minutemen were held in check by Explorers’ starting pitcher Luke Reilly. Four times in those first seven innings LaSalle advanced a runner into scoring position only to leave the inning fruitless.

The game opened up in the top of the eighth inning when Reilly left the game. UMass batters capitalized on the Explorer’s bullpen for three hits and two runs, building the lead to 3-0 which would be the final score line of the game.

“We just came through with some clutch hits,” Stone said. “We scored a couple of runs and we needed a little cushion, no question about that. It was really important to add the two runs we got in the eighth.”

The win came on the heels of a disappointing 4-3 defeat earlier in the afternoon. UMass had the go-ahead run on base with one out in the ninth but failed to move the runners any further as the next two batters were retired without putting the ball in play.

“To bounce back and get the 3-0 win after the first game was big,” Stone said. “We responded really well after not playing that well in the first game.”

Earlier in the afternoon, UMass did not have such stability from it’s starting pitching nor the timely hitting to pull out a victory.

Starter Brooks Knapek, who has gone seven-plus innings allowing a single earned run twice this month, was removed from the game with no outs the second inning after giving up two runs on three hits with two walks.

After the game, coaches learned Knapek was dealing with elbow soreness and team physicians will evaluate him today.

Casey Aubin came in and stopped the bleeding with six innings of work, allowing three hits and one run on 82 pitches.

However, the four runs would prove to be enough. In the top of the ninth UMass failed to execute with runners in scoring position and the game ended with a strikeout and foul out with the tying run on second base.

“We just have to come through in the clutch situations, it doesn’t happen all the time,” Stone said. “We were trying to make something happen and it didn’t then.”

UMass takes game one

In the first game of the series, UMass topped LaSalle behind decent offensive production and solid starting pitching for a 6-2 victory.

Starting pitcher Justin Lasko pitched seven innings with one earned run on 92 pitches and earned his second win of the season.

Ryan Lever and Dylan Morris each contributed multi-hit efforts with a RBI apiece to highlight a consistent afternoon at the plate for the Minutemen, in which seven of the nine starters registered a hit.

UMass next hosts Quinnipiac Wednesday to try to build off the weekend and secure a spot in the conference tournament. First pitch from Earl Lorden Field is set for 3 p.m.

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