AMHERST, Mass. -
The UMass baseball team will be making its 16th appearance in the Atlantic 10 Tournament this week as the squad opens up championship action as the No. 4 seed vs. No. 5 Richmond on Wednesday, May 23, at noon at Fordham's Houlihan Park in Bronx, N.Y. Single day tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for children, while four-day passes are $24 and $15, respectively. With the exception of the championship game, all contests will be video streamed live, free of charge.
UMass In The A-10 Tournament
UMass is making its 16th appearance in the Atlantic 10 Tournament and first since 2003. The Minutemen are 24-26 all-time in the A-10 Tournament and have won the tournament title four times, last in 1996.
Against the 2012 tournament field, UMass is 0-3 all-time in the postseason. The Minutemen dropped their second game in 2009 to Dayton (9-5) and a pair of contests to Richmond in 2003 (8-0 & 7-4).
Sophomore Rob McLam hit safely in all three of UMass' games last week, helping the Minutemen sweep George Washington for the first time since 1995 by batting a team-high .636 (7-for-11) in the series. He totaled four RBI and six runs scored over the three games with at least one run and one driven in each contest. In UMass' 6-3 win that clinched the squad's Atlantic 10 Tournament berth, McLam drove in the go-ahead run in the fifth inning and finished the afternoon a perfect 4-for-4. He was named Atlantic 10 Player of the Week for his efforts.
Last Thursday, May 17, junior Dennis Torres tossed his first career complete game and struck out a career-high eight on his 22nd birthday to earn the win in game one vs. George Washington.
Sophomore Kyle Adie has scored a team-high 11 runs over the team's past 10 games, playing in nine, while going a perfect 5-for-5 in stolen base attempts. Three of the outfielder's nine hits in that span have been doubles.
Sophomore Dylan Begin has reached base in 20 straight games and holds the longest active hitting streak in the Atlantic 10, currently at 16 games.
Over Freshman Andrew Grant's last four appearances, he holds a 1.23 ERA with just two runs allowed on nine hits in 14.2 innings pitched and an opponent batting average of .188. Grant made his first A-10 start last Saturday against George Washington and earned the win after pitching 5.2 innings without allowing a run. In the stretch of those four appearances, Grant threw 13.2 innings consecutive shutout innings.
UMass has trailed in 10 of its 22 wins on the season and has won six games when either trailing or tied after the seventh inning.
The Minutemen have scored the winning run in their last at bat six times this year, including three walk-off victories.
UMass Pitching Among A-10's Best
Pitching has been the Minutemen's biggest strength this season. The staff earned run average of 3.64 ranks third among all Atlantic 10 teams. In conference play, UMass posted a 3.23 ERA through 223 innings with just 72 walks to 146 strikeouts.
UMass' .268 opponent batting average is sixth in the conference.
Leading the way, senior Joe Popielarczyk boasts an A-10-best 1.24 ERA in 79.2 innings pitched, which is good for third in the nation. He has allowed just nine extra base hits (eight doubles, one home run), with opponents hitting .220 against him. In conference play, Popielarczyk logged a 1.16 ERA over 62.1 innings and has allowed only seven extra base hits with 48 strikeouts to 16 walks. His strikeouts total in conference play ranked third among A-10 pitchers.
Popielarczyk was one of 51 named to the initial Pitcher of the Year Watch List by the College Baseball Hall of Fame.
Junior Dennis Torres is second on the squad with a 3.04 ERA in 83.0 innings of work. With 51 strikeouts on the year, his strikeouts-to-walks ratio is 2.4-to-1.
The rotation UMass used for the majority of the regular season (Torres, Glen Misho and Popielarczyk) is collectively averaged just under 7.0 innings per-start.
Freshman Conor LeBlanc, who has made five mid-week starts, is 4-1 with a 3.37 ERA through 34.2 innings and holds an opponent batting average of .271.
The Minutemen have collectively stolen 50 bases for the first time since 2008, now with 69 on the season to rank fifth in the Atlantic 10. UMass is 69-for-93 on the basepaths this year.
As a team, UMass ranks 23rd in all of Division I in stolen bases per-game (1.64).
Leading the way, redshirt sophomore Ryan Cusick is 23-for-29 on the season on the basepaths, tied for third in the A-10 in steals. He entered the week 17th in the nation in stolen bases per-game.
With his 20th of the season, Cusick became the first UMass player to swipe 20 bags since Shaun Skefington stole 26 in 2000.
Cusick capped off the opening 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.
Sophomore Kyle Adie is 15-for-15 in stolen bases on the year.
Bring Out The Brooms
UMass' series sweep of La Salle, 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.
The Minutemen's three-game sweep of George Washington was its first of the Colonials since the 1995 season.
UMass Captures Sixth Beanpot Title
On the back of an 8-0 start and 11 strikeouts by freshman left-hander Conor LeBlanc, the UMass baseball team claimed its sixth Beanpot Championship with an 8-7 win over Harvard at LeLacheur Park on Apr. 18.
The Minutemen took home the title for the first time since 2008, having also previously won the championship in 1996, 1997, 1998 and 2000.
LeBlanc was stellar in his start, improving to 3-0 on the season with the win. He worked into the seventh, throwing six shutout innings, and struck out 11, while walking just one and scattering nine hits with three runs allowed. The 11 Ks matched the highest total by a UMass pitcher ever in a Beanpot game as Scott Barnsby fanned 11 against Northeastern in 1996.
LeBlanc's 11 Ks are the most by a UMass freshman in at least 20 years. He was named Co-UMass Athlete of the Week on Monday, Apr. 23, for his efforts.
Redshirt freshman Adam Picard paced the Minutemen offensively with a 3-for-5 day at the plate, including his second home run of the season and a double. He drove in four and scored three, factoring in all but two of the squads eight runs on the day.
A Great Start
UMass' record of 8-4 mark at the halfway point of the A-10 schedule matched the team's best 12-game start since 2003 when the team began A-10 play at 8-4 and finished 14-7 in the conference.
Following series wins over Fordham and La Salle, the Minutemen were 5-1, 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.
With nine A-10 games remaining, UMass surpassed its 2011 total for conference victories (8). The squad has also surpassed last year's overall win total (17). The Minutemen's last 20-win season came in 2009.
Keeping It Close
Out of UMass' 42 games thus far, 20 have been decided by one run with UMass holding an 11-9 record in those contests. After beginning the year 1-4 in one-run games, the Minutemen are 10-5 since, including a 9-3 mark in the past 12.
The Minutemen are 17-3 when leading after six, 16-3 when leading after seven and 17-2 when leading after eight. UMass is out-scoring its opponents 12-5 in the ninth inning.
In the 22 games the squad has won this season, UMass' pitching staff has posted a 2.14 earned run average.
More Than One Way To Score Runs
UMass has relied on productive outs, sacrifices and walks to drive in a large portion its runs this season. Out of the Minutemen's 167 RBI on the season 58 of those did not come on base hits.
The Minutemen entered the week fifth in the nation in sacrifices, led by Rich Graef who is 45th nationally in sacrifice bunts per-game.
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.
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 619-545-3 (.532).
In his career, which spans 30 seasons (five at Vermont), Stone is 673-635-5 (.514).
The Minutemen recorded the 1,500th win in program history on May 2, 2012 vs. Northeastern. The all-time record is 1,505-1,398-19 since 1877.
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 175 out of a possible 188 games over four seasons at UMass, logging 168 starts. He has started all but two games this year and is currently tied for third in program history for games played.
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 43-for-64 in stolen base attempts against him this season. Conley is second in the Atlantic 10 in runners caught stealing with 21.
A .290 career hitter, Conley has 168 hits, 95 runs scored and 90 RBI in three-plus seasons with the Minutemen. He was an Atlantic 10 All-Rookie selection in 2009.
Conley is seventh in the UMass record book for career walks with 85. With 25 thus far in 41 games, he has surpassed his previous career high of 24 in 46 games in 2009.
Popielarczyk Earns Pair Of Weekly 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.
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.
LeBlanc Recognized By Atlantic 10
Freshman left-hander Conor LeBlanc was tabbed the Co-Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week on Apr. 16. LeBlanc is the second Minuteman to be honored by the A-10 this season and is the first to earn a Rookie of the Week nod since Ryan Cusick did so twice in 2010.
In what was just his second career start, LeBlanc tossed 7.2 innings and scattered three hits, pitching UMass past Northeastern, 4-1, to advance to the Beanpot Championship game vs. Harvard. LeBlanc allowed just one run, while walking four and striking out two.
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 reached base in 21 straight after ending 2011 by reaching safely in the final two games before seeing his streak come to an end at Saint Joseph's on Apr. 13.
Sophomore Rob McLam reached base in 13 straight contests before his streak was snapped in the La Salle series and junior Rich Graef's reached base streak reached 12 before coming to an end against Northeastern on Apr. 10.
Sophomore Dylan Begin has now reached base in 20 straight games and holds the longest active hitting streak in the Atlantic 10 and third longest by any player in the conference this season, currently at 16 games. Classmate Kyle Adie posted a 12-game hitting streak this season, the second longest by a UMass player.
Nine Minutemen have posted hitting streaks of five games or more at least once this season.
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 been contributing for the Minutemen in 2012. The pair has accounted for 23 of UMass' 63 extra base hits on the season, Cusick with 10 doubles, four triples and a home run and Picard with five doubles and three of UMass' eight home runs. Cusick finished the regular season tied for third in the Atlantic 10 for triples.
Reaping the benefits of having a young pitching staff in 2011, UMass returned 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 (21) and holds three marks on the single season saves list at UMass, including a career-best 10 in 2012 for a new program single season record. Thus far in 2012, he has fanned 30 batters, including the first five he faced at Old Dominion on Mar. 19 for a new career high. Sorenson collected two of UMass' three wins in the La Salle series and has made 22 appearances on the season.
Sorenson also earned a win in game one at Saint Louis and finshed 3-3 in Atlantic 10 play with five saves and a 2.45 ERA over 22.0 innings with seven walks and 19 strikeouts. The right-hander was tabbed Atlantic 10 pitcher of the Week on May 7 after picking up three saves and retiring all 12 batters he faced over the three appearances.
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 collected his first career victory vs. Northeastern on May 2.
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. He earned his first career start on Apr. 18 in the Beanpot Championship game. On Apr. 20 at Saint Louis, Yanakopulos drove in the first two runs of his career and had his first two hits, going 2-for-3 with two RBI and a run scored.
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. He had his first career triple the following week in the Beanpot Championship game vs. Harvard on Apr. 18.
Sophomore Alex Tuneski hit his first career home run on Apr. 25 vs. Maine and had a career day, reaching base in all five trips to the plate, going 3-for-3 with two walks.
Freshman Bryan Dionicio played in his first collegiate game on Apr. 29 vs. Temple.
Grant picked up his first career victory in his first Atlantic 10 start on May 15, tossing 5.2 innings and allowing just one run on six hits with two walks and two strikeouts.