Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Eddy Hart powering UMass baseball through first 10 games

Second baseman on a tear as UMass’ offense surprises

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(Collegian file photo)

(Collegian file photo)

(Collegian file photo)

By Thomas Haines, Collegian Staff

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Through 10 games, the Massachusetts baseball team has surprised, beating good opponents on the strength of its hitting. Given that the Minutemen hit .241 as a team last year, no one was projecting them for 12-11 wins like their walk-off victory over Bucknell last week.

The poster child for this early success at the plate has been second baseman Eddy Hart, who has hit safely in the last nine games for a .350 average. In fact, according to UMass coach Matt Reynolds, Hart’s early success demonstrates exactly what he hopes to see from the Minutemen (6-4) this year.

“He’s been the example for us of what we want all of our hitters to do,” Reynolds said. “He’s really taken in some things and really grown as a hitter from the fall to the spring.”

The early production has already brought increased responsibility. Hart took over the leadoff spot in the lineup in the fourth game and has held it for all but one game since.

“I’m at the top of the lineup, and my job is to get on base,” Hart said. “That’s what I’m going for here, and I think it’s been pretty successful so far.”

Last year, Hart hit just .264 with only two extra-base hits, but he caught fire toward the end of the season. He went 9-11 over the final five games of the year, adding in three walks and three runs for good measure. The strong finish raised his average by more than 50 points.

Over the offseason, Hart worked on his swing with Reynolds and the other hitting coaches, trying to drive the ball better. The early returns are positive: Hart already has 14 hits and four doubles in 10 games, compared to six hits in the team’s first 10 games last season.

This marks Hart’s first year as a full-time starter. Heading into his sophomore year, Hart took over at second base for standout Jon Avallone, who graduated after the 2017 season. So far, Hart has filled Avallone’s shoes nicely.

“They just coached me the best that they can with my swing and my approach at the plate,” Hart said. “The rest is just me going up there and not really thinking about it too much and doing my job.”

Reynolds said that Hart’s early success mostly came down to little adjustments made over the offseason.

“He’s really staying through the baseball better, he’s driving it the other way better,” Reynolds said. “In the fall he was a guy who would pull off the baseball and we tried to get his swing to stay in the zone a little longer.”

Hart said that the offseason work had definitely helped his swing, but that he didn’t intend to continue tweaking his mechanics as the season went on.

“I try not to think about it that much honestly, especially during the game,” Hart said. “During the offseason is kind of when you tweak your swing and your mechanics and stuff, but now it’s like, ‘Go.’ We’re all coached up, we’ve been doing this since the fall. Right now, it’s just time to play.”

As UMass heads into its first conference series this weekend, the rest of the Minutemen will look to Hart to keep the offense rolling. Hart’s nine-game hitting streak is tied with shortstop Ryan Lever, who has made a significant offensive jump of his own and leads the team with a .386 average.

Hart and Lever will likely hit one-two at the top of the order on Friday, hoping to key a UMass offense that has been surpassing all expectations so far.

“I’m certainly not going to take any credit for it, I can tell you that right now,” Reynolds said. “Those guys work hard, and they’re talented.”

Thomas Haines can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @thainessports.

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