AMHERST, Mass. -
Wrapping a stretch of eight straight at home, the UMass baseball team will be playing its first home Atlantic 10 series of the year this Thursday, Friday and Saturday, as La Salle will visit Earl Lorden Field. Game one and two against the Explorers, April 5-6, are both set for 3 p.m. starts, while Saturday's contest will begin at noon.
Thursday (Game 1, 3 p.m.): RHP Dennis Torres (2-2, 2.30) vs. LHP Eric Van Wyk (3-2, 3.27 ERA)
Friday (Game 2, 3 p.m.): RHP Glen Misho (1-2, 5.55) vs. RHP Kevin Christy (1-1, 2.51 ERA)
Coming into the series against UMass, La Salle is 15-13 overall with a 3-3 record within the Atlantic 10. The Explorers took their opening conference series at George Washington, two games to one, but dropped its home series with Richmond last weekend, 2-1.
Marc Schoch leads the Explorers with a .324 batting average, 33 hits, 10 doubles, and 18 RBI. Three other Explorers have averages .300 or above (Jeff Flax, Dan Klem, and Joe Bennie). Brendan Norton has scored a team-high 23 runs on the year through 28 games.
The La Salle pitching staff holds an earned run average of 4.47 in 249.2 innings pitched. The Explorers have struck out 225 batters while only allowing 75 walks. Opposing teams are hitting .276 against them. Reliever Pat Christensen boasts seven saves in 16 appearances and is 3-1 with a 3.27 ERA, 35 strikeouts and only two walks.
UMass leads the all-time series against La Salle, 18-10, with a 6-3 mark in Amherst. When the teams last met in 2010, the Minutemen took two of three from the Explorers.
UMass Pitching Among A-10's Best
Pitching has been the Minutemen's biggest strength thus far this season. Entering the series with La Salle, the staff earned run average of 3.57 ranked second among all Atlantic 10 teams. UMass' .250 opponent batting average is second in the conference, as well.
Leading the way, senior Joe Popielarczyk boasts an A-10 leading 1.37 ERA in 26.1 innings pitched, which is good for 21st in the nation. He has allowed just two extra base hits (two doubles), with opponents hitting .207 against him.
Junior Dennis Torres also ranks in the top five in the conference, fifth with a 2.30 ERA in 31.1 innings of work. With 20 strikeouts on the year, his strikeouts-to-walks ratio is just above 3-to-1.
UMass weekend rotation (Torres, Glen Misho and Popielarczyk) is collectively averaging almost 7.0 innings per-start.
Reaching A Milestone
Head coach Mike Stone is in his 25th season at the helm for UMass and picked up the 600th win as coach of the Minutemen on Mar. 23 as UMass rallied late from a 4-1 deficit at Fordham to take the squads' Atlantic 10 opener, 5-4. He currently holds a record of 603-535-3 (.530).
In his career, which spans 30 seasons (five at Vermont), Stone is 657-625-5 (.512)
McLam Emerging As Offensive Threat
Rob McLam is having a breakout season as a sophomore, currently leading the Minutemen with a .381 average with 16 hits in 42 at bats through 15 games. He has a double, seven RBI, five runs scored and four stolen bases to his credit, as well.
As a freshman in 23 at bats, McLam had seven hits, one double and three RBI. He equaled his RBI total from last season in one game this year, at Hartford on Mar. 13. Against the Hawks, he drove in the tying and winning runs in the eighth inning and finished the afternoon 3-for-3 with three RBI and two stolen bases.
McLam currently ranks fifth in the Atlantic 10 in batting average and second in on base percentage (.519).
Conley A Mainstay For Minutemen Behind The Plate
Senior catcher Tom Conley is in his fourth year as a starter behind the plate for the Minutemen having played a possible 149 out of 162 games over four seasons at UMass, logging 143 starts.
Conley is the top returning hitter from the 2011 squad, posting a .299 average with 44 runs scored, 30 RBI, seven doubles, one triple and two home runs last season.
Primarily hitting fifth in the lineup as a junior, Conley struck out just 12 times in 147 at bats. He ranked second on the team in multi-hit games (13), third on the team in multi-RBI games (8), third in batting average and fourth in RBI.
Defensively, Conley threw out 24 runners on the base paths, which ranked him third in the Atlantic 10, while picking off two, as well.
Thus far in 2012, opponents are just 19-for-33 in stolen base attempts against him this season. Conley leads the Atlantic 10 in runners caught stealing with 14.
A .292 career hitter, Conley begins his senior campaign with 143 hits, 81 runs scored and 72 RBI. He was an Atlantic 10 All-Rookie selection in 2009.
Popielarczyk Earns Pair Of Honors
Senior Joe Popielarczyk was named the Atlantic 10 Pitcher of the Week and co-UMass Athlete of the Week on Mar. 26. Both honors were the first for the Florence, Mass., native and first for a member of the Minutemen this season.
Popielarczyk went 2-0 in his pair of starts in the previous week, pitching in a combined 8-0 shutout at Old Dominion and throwing his first career complete game in UMass' 3-1 Atlantic 10 series-clinching game three victory at Fordham this past Sunday.
Over the two outings, Popielarczyk threw a total of 14.1 innings, including 13.1 consecutive shutout frames, and allowed just one earned run for a 0.63 earned run average on the week. He struck out 14 and walked nine, while none of the nine hits allowed were for extra bases.
Against the Monarchs on Mar. 19, Popielarczyk worked 5.1 innings and let up only two hits. He followed up in his start at Fordham on Mar. 25 by striking out a career-high 10 batters and holding the Rams to three hits through the first eight innings of the contest.
Several returning Minutemen ended the 2011 season with active hitting streaks including junior Anthony Serino, who extended his six-game streak from last year to eight by hitting safely in the first two games of 2012 before going 0-for-3 in the series finale at UCF. The eight-game streak is a new career best for the outfielder.
Senior Tom Conley has now reached base in 17 straight after ending 2011 by reaching safely in the final two games.
Sophomore Rob McLam has reached base in 13 straight contests and junior Rich Graef's reached base streak is now at nine.
Posted the longest hitting streak of any Minuteman thus far this season, eight games (3/19-4/1). Redshirt sophomore Ryan Cusick's four-game streak is the current longest active by any Minuteman.
Core Of Sophomores
Among UMass' returnees from the 2011 squad are 10 sophomores, including seven position players who saw time in the field as freshman. Those seven collectively played in 171 games with 109 starts and had a total of 407 at bats. Three--Dylan Begin, Josh Messier and Nick Sanford--started 20 or more games. Begin went 26-for-100 with 13 RBI and 12 runs scored with five doubles and one home run in 29 games with 26 starts.
Also not included in those 10 are two more players who missed time in 2011 due to injury. Redshirt sophomore Ryan Cusick returns looking to build off a freshman campaign in 2010 in which he started 34 games and hit .297 (44-for-148) with 34 runs scored en-route to an Atlantic 10 All-Rookie Team selection. Redshirt freshman Adam Picard was off to a promising start before suffering a season-ending injury in 2011, logging six hits, with three doubles, in 21 at bats over seven games.
Picking Up Where They Left Off
Both coming back off of injuries, redshirt freshman Adam Picard and redshirt sophomore Ryan Cusick have gotten off to solid starts to 2012. The pair has accounted for 10 of UMass' 18 extra base hits on the season, Cusick with a team-high five doubles and two triples and Picard with two doubles and a home run.
Cusick capped off the weekend at UCF by going 2-for-3 in game three and swiped three bags, one shy of the program single game record for stolen bases, and followed up by going 3-for-3 once again at Hartford. As a freshman in 2010 he totaled eight stolen bases in 35 games and surpassed that just 12 games into 2012.
Cusick is currently 12-for-13 on the season on the basepaths, ranking fifth in the A-10 in steals and entered the week fifth in the nation in stolen bases per-game (0.8). He currently leads the squad with 15 runs scored on the year.
Reaping the benefits of having a young pitching staff in 2011, UMass returns 285 of its 411.1 innings from last season, including seven who started on the mound.
Among those back for 2011 is senior Glen Misho. Misho led the Minutemen in wins (5), starts (12), innings pitched (82.2) and strikeouts (42).
Junior Dennis Torres started eight games in his first collegiate season, throwing a total of 46.0 innings and striking out 31. He is back in the starting rotation this year.
UMass' bullpen ace is senior Leif Sorenson who led the Minutemen with a 3.08 earned run average last season. Sorenson, who came to UMass as a sophomore after Vermont discontinued its baseball program, is the program's all-time saves leader (14) and holds the No. 4 and No. 5 marks on the single season saves list at UMass, including a career-best six in a team-high 21 appearances in 2011. Thus far in 2012, he has fanned 10 batters, including the first five he faced at Old Dominion on Mar. 19 for a new career high. Sorenson currently has three saves on the year, already half of his total from last season.
The Minutemen have also bolstered the pitching staff with the addition of six freshman arms.
Freshman Jeff Cavanaro recorded his first collegiate hit on Mar. 9 at UCF, a pinch hit single. He started his first collegiate game on Mar. 11 vs. the Knights.