UMass baseball opens season against Delaware State this weekend

The young roster will have to make up for talent lost from last season

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Collegian File Photo

By Joseph Aliberti, Collegian Staff

It’s a new season for UMass baseball, who will be headed to Dover to face off against Delaware State this weekend.

Although this will be the first game of the year for the Minutemen, the Hornets (0-3) kicked off their season a week earlier at Elon, where they dropped all three to the Phoenix.

With the new season comes new adjustments, primarily making up for the losses of seniors. The most notable loss was ace Justin Lasko, who was taken in the 30th round of the MLB draft by the New York Mets last year. Lasko led the Minutemen in starts last season with 14, and also left UMass with school records such as career starts with 48, 311.1 innings pitched and 247 strikeouts.

“He provided so much consistency,” UMass coach Matt Reynolds said. “You knew on Friday going into the weekend that he was going to give you a chance to win, and even when he wasn’t at his best it was never a situation where you’re like ‘Oh man we’re going into the bullpen in the second inning, and now we’re in trouble for the rest of the weekend.’ Having the rock there was great, but hard to replace.”

Losing Lasko’s 14 starts plus a combined total of 22 starts from all the graduating seniors is going to be something that will be tough to replace, and at the forefront of this new-look pitching staff will be last year’s number two in the rotation in junior Sean Harney, who had a 3-5 record last year with a 3.27 ERA in 11 starts and 66 innings.

The other pitcher who will likely take the bulk of the starts this season along with Harney is junior Ben Shields. Shields did not play last year, as he took the year off, but in his freshman season he pitched in eight games, starting two and coming out of the bullpen in the other six. In 22.1 innings, the freshman at the time had 19 strikeouts.

“Stuff-wise, they are every bit capable of having that type of success,” Reynolds said. “It’s just that they need to mature into that consistency factor that we’re missing with Lasko. Their ability factor is every bit, it’s just being able to throw strikes and being able to be consistent.”

The only other pitchers that are back this year with recorded starts are fellow sophomores Daniel Livnat and Jack Steele, who each started six games apiece for UMass. Steele will have the first shot between the two sophomores of starting, as he will start against Delaware State on Sunday.

The fielding will be just as difficult if not more to try and replace this season, especially with redshirt sophomore and NEIBA all-star Collin Shapiro out with an injury to start the season. Shapiro was not only one of the best fielders on the Minutemen, where he plays left field, but he also led off the Minutemen’s batting order. As a hitter last season, Shapiro led the team in quite a few categories, such as runs with 35, batting average with .301, a .450 on-base percentage, 36 walks and 10 steals.

The task for Reynolds and his staff will be finding who fits best where, which will be especially harder because of the number of seniors that have departed from last season. UMass is losing their third baseman from last season in Alec Norton, along with infielder Ryan Lever, who usually was found at shortstop. Along with those two, the injury of Shapiro will force Reynolds to have four new faces in the field and in the batting order.

“There’s going to be a lot of young guys on the field,” Reynolds said. “In some combination, there’s going to be two freshman and a sophomore in the infield and there is going to be a freshman or two in the outfield at times. They’re freshman, they’re going to be nervous, they’re going to be amped up, but we just need them to continue to build as the season goes on and get more comfortable.”

Even with all of the lineup adjustments that have to be made and starting seniors lost from graduation or the draft, Reynolds still holds strong expectations for his team after a 18-27 record last season.

“We want to have at least a 20-plus win season, which hasn’t happened in the last couple of years,” Reynolds said. “We’ve improved incrementally the past two years, but we’d like to get over that hump and then our biggest goal is to make it into the A-10 playoffs.”

The Minutemen’s season will start tomorrow with a double header, the first game starting at noon and the second at 3 p.m., and then finish off the weekend series on Sunday at 1 p.m. at Alumni Stadium in Dover, Delaware.

Joseph Aliberti can be reached via email at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @JosephAliberti1.