The final homestand of the 2018 season for the Massachusetts baseball team opens Friday, as the Minutemen prepare for a three-game series against Fordham.
UMass (14-23, 5-13 Atlantic-10) is coming off a full week of practice for the first time since mid-March. In the seven weeks since then, the Minutemen have gone 8-19, with a brutal slump at the beginning of April that all but ended their hopes of making the A-10 tournament.
In the past two weeks, UMass has stabilized, winning three of its last six.
“I think we’ve just been playing more loose, but also playing hard at the same time,” catcher Keith Linnane said. “Not stressing, not pressing, just getting the job done. Just playing the game that we love. Things are working out for us right now.”
Things have been working out for Fordham too. Powered by a strong pitching staff and aggressive baserunning, the Rams have won seven of their last eight and currently sit third in the A-10.
How the Minutemen fare against Fordham’s pitching will be a major factor. Led by senior Ben Greenberg, the Rams have multiple pitchers throwing in the low 90s. UMass hitters have struggled against top pitching this year, particularly in conference games. Recently, the bats have heated up again, but the Minutemen have struggled to hit with runners in scoring position.
On the mound, UMass will start junior Justin Lasko on Friday before sending out freshmen Sean Harney and Ben Shields on Saturday and Sunday. Sophomore Brooks Knapek, who began the year as the number two starter, has been dropped from the rotation.
Harney, now the number two behind Lasko, struggled last weekend, giving up six earned runs in less than two innings of work against Bryant.
“From Sean, you hope that he’s good and the same guy every single time out, but he’s still a freshman,” Reynolds said. “It’s a little bit to be expected that there could be some bumps along the way. Hopefully last week was just a minor bump in the road for him, and he can get right back on track.”
After this weekend, UMass will be on the road for the season’s final four games, so the Minutemen have scheduled Senior Day for Sunday and the final home game of the year. UMass has six graduating seniors.
“I’ve told them that they’re very much still a part of this family,” Reynolds said. “We want to make sure that we’ve got alumni that, next year this time, they’re checking their phones. Almost like they were still with us in the dugout, they still feel that investment in the program. Hopefully that’s going to be the case. It’s a really good group of young men that are going to have a lot of success in the next phase of their lives.”
Stuck in 11th place in the A-10, the Minutemen need to win two of their last seven games to surpass last year’s win total. UMass is not mathematically eliminated but needs to win out and get help to have a shot at the tournament.
With relatively slim chances, the Minutemen are hoping for a strong finish to the season that will carry over into next year.
“Whether in the playoffs or not, or whether you lose the very last game of the year, you always want to have the feeling that you left the season playing good baseball,” Reynolds said. “That’s my hope, that we can play really solid baseball, win or lose. I would hope we would win all seven, but if we do lose some, I want it to be because the other team beat us, not because we beat ourselves.”
Thomas Haines can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @thainessports.