One bad inning sinks UMass bid for second straight baseball Beanpot championship
BOSTON — Standing on the mound at one of the most storied stadiums, University of Massachusetts pitcher Aaron Plunkett was living out a ballplayer’s dream.
He was pitching at Fenway Park. And he was pitching quite well.
But a laser shot over the Green Monster to jumpstart a four-run bottom of the fourth for Northeastern University knocked Plunkett out of his groove, erased a two-run lead and ended UMass’ attempt at a second-consecutive Beanpot championship, as the Minutemen fell 6-3 on Monday.
That home run, ripped by Huskies first baseman Rob Fonseca, shook Plunkett just enough. Northeastern (24-17) followed with a walk, back-to-back singles and a sacrifice fly. Plunkett capped the inning with a wild pitch that allowed third baseman Pete Castoldi to scamper home from third.
“I couldn’t really find the strike zone,” Plunkett said of his fourth-inning struggles. “I kind of lost my curveball and my changeup. They were just sitting fastball the whole time, and whenever I did get it over they were just hitting it into play.”
Plunkett settled down after the rocky inning, but the damage was done and the Minutemen (10-25) never recovered.
“We had a bad inning, the one they had the four runs, and at that point we were just trying to catch up,” UMass coach Mike Stone said.
Plunkett surrendered another run before departing with one out in the fifth. Stone was pleased with the five-hit, three-strikeout effort from his starter apart from the one big inning.
“He was sharp early, and I thought he went through a stretch where he got behind in the count,” Stone said. “And when you get behind in the count, it makes it more difficult to get hitters out, obviously. I think that was the situation that we really didn’t come back from.”
Led by three hits and a walk from DH Rob McLam and a pair of doubles from first baseman Dylan Begin, UMass got going early, opening a 1-0 lead in the second on a sacrifice fly by catcher John Jennings that scored Begin.
Begin tacked on the second run with an RBI off the wall in left scoring McLam in the third. McLam also scored the Minutemen’s final run on third baseman Nik Campero’s single in the eighth.
Dan Stoops, who relieved Plunkett for the final 22∕3 innings, allowed Northeastern’s sixth run on an RBI groundout in the bottom of the eighth.
UMass stranded a pair of runners in the ninth, with McLam, who had eight hits in the last 17 at-bats, striking out to end the game.
“He’s been swinging the bat well, and that’s why he’s hitting third for us,” Stone said. “He’s a guy we can always count on to have a good at-bat and he battles. Even in the last at-bat he was battling all the way through like he always does.”
Despite the loss, the big league experience was one to remember.
“Everybody was all pumped up because we’re at Fenway Park,” McLam said. “Even just getting on the field, you could tell there was a little more hop to everybody’s step.”
Added Plunkett, “You can kind of say it’s part of the experience. I mean, pitching at Fenway and then giving up a home run at Fenway, I guess not many people can say that.”