Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Brooks Knapek’s battle on the mound not enough for UMass baseball

The sophomore southpaw pitched five innings for the Minutemen

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(Collegian file photo)

(Collegian file photo)

(Collegian file photo)

By Ryan Ames, Assistant Sports Editor

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The Massachusetts baseball team lost 4-3 to La Salle Sunday afternoon despite a furious comeback attempt in the bottom of the ninth inning, in which UMass scored two runs and left two more on base.

Minutemen starter Brooks Knapek allowed UMass (11-19, 4-11 Atlantic 10) the chance to even the score with a strong outing that saw the sophomore hurl a career-high seven strikeouts.

“I thought I felt good. I warmed up, had a good feel from the start. My arm felt very loose, felt comfortable in the nice weather,” Knapek said. “[They’re] a good hitting team but I knew I could attack and nitpick some other things, so I saw my advantage and took them.”

Knapek tossed five innings, surrendering only three hits and one run while walking three. Ben Shields, who entered in relief in the sixth, was credited with the loss.

“He battled like crazy and he battled himself out on the mound, but he also fell behind some hitters and made it harder on himself than we should have,” Minutemen coach Matt Reynolds said. “He does have great off-speed stuff so sometimes he can do that and make it still look like it was a really, really, really strong outing.”

The top of the fourth inning was Knapek’s defining moment of the outing. The first three Explorer (13-25, 4-8 A-10) batters reached base, one hit-by-pitch, one double and one walk, loading the bases in a scoreless game with no outs.

Chase Arnold then singled to left center to drive in one run for La Salle and keep the pressure on for Knapek and UMass.

Not deterred by the potential mess in front of him, Knapek took it upon himself to escape the inning, striking out the next two Explorer batters swinging and keeping it to just a one-run ballgame.

“The goal was definitely to strike out the first guy out there and then get a ground ball, hopefully double play,” Knapek said. “Obviously the strikeout, strikeout, strikeout wasn’t really planned on, but I’ll definitely take it.”

“At that point [you’ve] got to say, ‘they don’t have to score, bases loaded, they really don’t have to score,’” Knapek added.

Knapek’s brilliant work on the mound couldn’t translate into runs for the Minutemen, however, as Frank Diorio struck out looking with two men on in the bottom half of the inning.

“It didn’t show up on the stat sheet on our side of it, but he definitely gave us a good start and that inning in particular was huge for him to get out of that jam that he was put into,” sophomore Nolan Kessinger said. “It usually turns into runs, it didn’t today, but hopefully in the future when he gives us good starts like that and make big outs, whether it be in the field or on the mound, hopefully it will spark us for runs in the next inning.”

Only winners of two of its last 15 games, UMass is in a rut and Knapek didn’t shy away from offering up his thoughts on the Minutemen’s play of late.

“I think sometimes our team plays a little flat style of baseball, we’re much better than that. Right now, we’re playing a brand of baseball that’s not us. We have a lot more energy, hit the ball much better, play much cleaner defense so keeping the energy is the thing everybody has to do on their own individual,” Knapek said. “I try to keep my energy really high, keep myself really motivated, keep the team really positive and nice and loud. Things aren’t really going our way right now. Playing frustrating baseball, everything can kind of tumble downhill, everything can kind of snowball effect really quickly.”

Ryan Ames can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @_RyanAmes.

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