Close call costs UMass baseball coach Mike Stone in final game

  • UMass Head Coach Mike Stone bumps arms with Ryan Venditti in their dugout during their win against Fairfield University, Tuesday at Lorden Field. It was his 750th win. He is finishing his 30th year at UMass. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • UMass Head Coach Mike Stone coaches his team Tuesday at Lorden Field. They defeated Fairfield College, making it his 750th win. He is finishing his 30th year at UMass. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

Friday, May 19, 2017

AMHERST — As Cooper Mrowka crossed the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning, the UMass bench and the crowd at Earl Lorden Field leapt to their feet in celebration.

After 8½ innings of scoreless baseball, the final game of not only the season but of coach Mike Stone’s 30-year career appeared to be ending in perfect fashion.

But then the cheering stopped and Stone ran out of the dugout to argue with first base umpire Matt Hansel. A murmur of confusion passed through the quieting crowd.

Mrowka was on second with two outs when Nolan Kessinger hit a slow roller to shortstop. Max Bazin scooped the ball and threw off balance. First baseman Brian Fortier had to lean far to his right to get the throw. His momentum eventually pulled him off the base.

Whether his cleat stayed on the bag long enough to have the ball in his glove will remain in infinite dispute between Hansel and Stone.

Fortier turned and fired home, but his throw was too late to get Mrowka. It didn’t matter. Hansel had called Kessinger out at first.

After Hansel and Stone argued, the three umpires caucused, but upheld the call.

Following the emotional swing, Davidson scored five times in the top of the 10th. Minuteman senior Jon Avallone answered with a two-run home run in his final career at-bat in the bottom of the inning. But UMass couldn’t make up the rest of the difference and fell 5-2.

Stone was still frustrated.

“I thought we had it. I thought the call should have been changed. I don’t know why they didn’t do it. I saw it plain as day. Obviously the kid didn’t think he had the bag because he threw to the plate. The umpires had a chance but didn’t show enough gumption apparently.”

When the game ended Stone took his players down the third baseline, gathered them into a huddle and thanked them.

“I told them I was proud of the fact they battled today. I appreciated their dedication and commitment to stay with things and not quit,” he said. “I wished them good luck in the future and told them I’d be keeping in touch.”

His players returned the feeling.

“He radiates hard work and how to do things the right way. It was a pleasure. I wish we could have won a few more games for him, but playing for him was the time of my life,” senior outfielder Dylan Morris said. “He coached until the very end. He never wanted the big farewell tour. He never made big deal about himself. It was about the team to the very end. You have to respect someone like that. I’m so glad I got to play for coach. He taught me a lot of valuable lessons.”

Avalonne agreed.

“I can’t thank him enough for everything he’s done for me,” he said. “It was special to be a part of everything he was about. He taught me a lot of life and a lot of baseball.”

Before the game, Morris and Avalonne were honored as part of senior day prior to a special ceremony for Stone.

Stone’s wife and three children, and former coach Dick Bergquist joined Stone on the field for the ceremony.

Since 1947 only three men have coached UMass baseball: Earl Lorden (1947-66), Bergquist (1967-1987) and Stone.

All three were represented on the field. Bergquist brought Lorden’s fungo bat with him.

“That was great to see,” Stone said.

UMass presented Stone with a rocking chair and framed jersey. The players gave him a bobblehead made specially in his likeness.

The school announced that Stone will be inducted into the UMass Athletic Hall of Fame in the fall.

Stone said he appreciated the ceremony as well as the way athletic director Ryan Bamford has treated him.

“That was really neat. He’s a class guy. I enjoy his dad (Steve Bamford, a former administrator with the ECAC) and I enjoy him,” Stone said. “Today couldn’t have been better ... except for the game. We battled. I wish we had executed batter. We played hard and we just struggled to score any runs.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage