AMHERST, Mass. -
The winner of four straight, the UMass baseball team will travel to Philadelphia, Pa., this weekend for a matchup with another one of the hottest teams in the Atlantic 10 as of late, playing a three game series at Saint Joseph's (13-20, 4-2 A-10) this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The Hawks have won five in a row, including a sweep of Saint Louis last weekend and are 8-2 over their past 10 contests, while the Minutemen are 7-3 over their last 10.
Game 1 (Fri. - 3 p.m.): RHP Dennis Torres (2-2, 2.08 ERA) vs. RHP Kyle Mullen (3-4, 4.29 ERA)
Game 2 (Sat. - 1 p.m.): RHP Glen Misho (1-2, 4.94 ERA) vs. RHP Alex Pracher (2-5, 4.08 ERA)
Game 3 (Sun. - 12 p.m.): RHP Joe Popielarczyk (2-0. 1.05 ERA) vs. RHP Jordan Carter (0-3, 2.95 ERA)
Scouting Saint Joseph's
Saint Joseph's enters its series with UMass holding an overall record of 13-20 and a 4-2 mark in the Atlantic 10, good for a tie for fifth in the conference standings. The Hawks are 8-2 over their past 10 and have won five in a row.
Kevin Kratochwill leads Saint Joseph's with a .344 batting average and has scored 12 runs on the year. Stefan Kancylarz (.268) is tied for the team lead in RBI with 13 and has scored a squad-best 15 runs.
The Hawks sport the third-best earned run average in the Atlantic 10 at 3.73 and have nine members of their staff holding ERAs of 4.50 or lower. The team has fanned 206 collectively, while walking 91.
UMass To Play For Beanpot Title
With its 4-1 win over Northeastern on Tuesday night, the Minutemen advanced to the Beanpot Championship game for the ninth time since first playing in the tournament in 1996. The squad will be making its first appearance in the title game since 2009 next Tuesday, Apr. 18, against Harvard at LeLacheur Park in Lowell, Mass., at 6 p.m.
UMass is 16-16 all-time in the Beanpot and went 1-1 last year with a loss to Harvard (1-0) and a win over Northeastern (4-2) in the consolation game. The Minutemen are 7-4 all-time against the Crimson in the tournament.
The Minutemen last won the Beanpot in 2008, a 4-3 win over Boston College and have captured the championship five times.
Off To A Great Start
UMass is currently in first place in the Atlantic 10 standings with a record of 5-1 after series wins over Fordham and La Salle, marking the best six-game start to a conference slate since the 1998 season when the squad began 6-0. The Minutemen went 27-12 overall that year, including a 15-3 mark in A-10 play.
UMass is currently three wins shy of matching its 2011 total for conference victories (8).
Bring Out The Brooms
UMass' series sweep of La Salle last weekend, Apr. 5-7, marked the first time the Minutemen had won all three games of an A-10 series since going 3-0 vs. Duquesne in May 2009.
It was also the first time UMass had swept the Explorers since 2000.
Keeping It Close
Out of UMass' 19 games thus far, 12 have been decided by one run with UMass holding a 6-6 record in those contests. After beginning the year 1-4 in one-run games, the Minutemen are 5-2 since, including four straight victories.
The Minutemen are 6-1 when leading after seven and 7-0 when leading after eight. UMass is out-scoring its opponents 5-1 in the ninth inning.
More Than One Way To Score Runs
UMass has relied on productive outs, sacrifices and walks to drive in runs this season almost as much as base hits. Out of the Minutemen's 60 RBI on the season 26 of those did not come on base hits.
The Minutemen are 28th in the nation in sacrifices, led by Rob McLam who is third nationally in sacrifice bunts per-game. Nick Sanford and Ryan Cusick are tied for 29th.
Tom Conley is 24th nationally in walks per-game and has draw a team-high 19 in 19 games.
As a team, UMass ranks 34th in all of Division I in stolen bases per-game (1.63).
Junior Rich Graef played a huge role in both of UMass' back-to-back walk off wins against La Salle. The outfielder scored the tying run with the Minutemen down to their last out to force extra innings and then drove in the winning run with a walk off RBI single in the 10th to give UMass a 5-4 win over the Explorers. The very next game with the score tied at 1-1, Graef singled in the ninth and stole second, resulting in a pair of errors that allowed him to score the winning run.
UMass Pitching Among A-10's Best
Pitching has been the Minutemen's biggest strength thus far this season. Entering the weekend, the staff earned run average of 3.02 ranks first among all Atlantic 10 teams, 33rd nationally. In conference play, UMass boasts an A-10-leading 1.78 ERA through 55.2 innings with just 14 walks to 42 strikeouts.
UMass' .243 opponent batting average is second in the conference, as well.
Leading the way, senior Joe Popielarczyk boasts an A-10-best 1.05 ERA in 34.1 innings pitched, which is good for ninth in the nation. He has allowed just two extra base hits (two doubles), with opponents hitting .205 against him. In conference play, Popielarczyk holds a 0.53 ERA over 17.0 innings and has yet to allow an extra base hit with 16 strikeouts to five walks.
Junior Dennis Torres also ranks in the top three in the conference, third with a 2.08 ERA in 39.0 innings of work. With 26 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 just under 7.0 innings per-start.
Freshman Conor LeBlanc, who has made two mid-week starts, is 2-0 with a 1.45 ERA through 18.2 innings and holds an opponent batting average of .172.
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 607-535-3 (.531).
In his career, which spans 30 seasons (five at Vermont), Stone is 661-625-5 (.514)
McLam Emerging As Offensive Threat
Rob McLam is having a breakout season as a sophomore, currently second for the Minutemen with a .309 average with 17 hits in 55 at bats through 19 games. He has a double, eight RBI, five runs scored and five 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 eighth in the Atlantic 10 in on base percentage at .449.
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 153 out of a possible 166 games over four seasons at UMass, logging 147 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 20-for-37 in stolen base attempts against him this season. Conley leads the Atlantic 10 in runners caught stealing with 17.
A .293 career hitter, Conley has 146 hits, 85 runs scored and 73 RBI in three-plus seasons with the Minutemen. 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 20 straight after ending 2011 by reaching safely in the final two games.
Sophomore Rob McLam reached base in 13 straight contests before his streak was snapped in the La Salle and junior Rich Graef's reached base streak reached 12 before coming to an end against Northastern on Apr. 10.
Graef posted the longest hitting streak of any Minuteman thus far this season, eight games (3/19-4/1).
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 12 of UMass' 23 extra base hits on the season, Cusick with a team-high six doubles and two triples and Picard with three 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 14-for-16 on the season on the basepaths, tied for fourth the A-10 in steals and entered the week ninth in the nation in stolen bases per-game (0.8). The last UMass player with 15 steals in a season was Ryan Franczek (16) in 2008. Shaun Skefington was the last to steal 20 with 26 in 2000.
Cusick currently leads the squad with 17 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 (16) and holds the No. 4, No. 5 and No. 10 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 13 batters, including the first five he faced at Old Dominion on Mar. 19 for a new career high. Sorenson currently has four saves on the year, more than half of his total from last season. He collected two of UMass' three wins in the La Salle series and has made 11 appearances on the 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.
Conor LeBlanc made the first appearance of his career at Hartford on Mar. 13 and retired both batters he faced. He picked up his first collegiate win on Apr. 6, tossing 1.1 innings of hitless relief against La Salle.
Tim Stoops threw 1.2 hitless innings in his collegiate debut at Old Dominion on Mar. 17 and struck out three. He has not allowed an earned run thus far in four appearances and has fanned five.
Ron Wallace earned his first career victory at Hartford on Mar. 13.
Adam Picard hit his first career home run at Hartford on Mar. 13.
Cassidy made his first collegiate start at Monmouth on Mar. 21.
Paul Yanakopulos appeared in his first career game as a defensive replacement on Mar. 24 at Fordham.
Cavanaro and sophomore Brian Fracasso both collected their first career RBIs on Apr. 2 vs. Connecticut. Fracasso appeared in his first collegiate game on Apr. 1 vs. UAlbany.
Cavanaro scored the first run of his career, the walk-off game winner in a 5-4 come-from-behind win over La Salle on Apr. 6.
Sophomore Nik Campero hit his first collegiate home run on Apr. 10 in the Beanpot Semifinal vs. Northeastern.
UMass will play host to Central Connecticut on Tuesday, Apr. 17, at 3 p.m. on Earl Lorden Field.