(Photo courtesy of UMass Lowell Athletics) “River Hawks competing against South Carolina.”
There’s an old saying: “if you mess with the bull, you get the horns.” The River Hawks baseball team experienced that first-hand last weekend as they traveled to Columbia, South Carolina to take on the #23 South Carolina Gamecocks. It was by no means unexpected when facing an SEC school that the River Hawks were obliterated by the Gamecocks, being outscored 49-5 and giving up a Division I worst 14 homers over the three game series.
While the River Hawks were able to jump out to early leads in all three games, those brief sparks of success would end up setting off a blaze that the Lowell pitching staff could not extinguish.
Sophomore pitcher LJ Keevan started Friday’s matchup but lasted only 3 ⅓ innings after giving up 10 runs and 4 homers. The effort from the bullpen was similarly futile. Zach Rodgers (Grad, right-handed pitcher) entered in the fifth and was gone before the end of the sixth but not before plunking 3 batters and letting up 7 runs. The game’s sole bright spot on the mound was Westfield State transfer pitcher Shane Bogli’s shutout inning. Offensively, the River Hawks had their best performance of the weekend as they scored 3 runs. Game one would go to the Gamecocks by a score of 20-3.
Game 2 started off like the previous one. The River Hawks jumped out to an early lead on an RBI double by graduate center fielder Gerry Siracusa. Freshman debutant pitcher Brian Foley was given the starting nod on the mound but would be torn apart by the Gamecocks, giving up 9 runs in just 3 innings of work.
The Lowell defense would also struggle with shortstop, Fritz Genther and outfielder Bobby Gallagher combining for three errors in the first three frames.
Sophomore pitcher Hayden Duke would be brought in to relieve Foley in the fourth and his efforts would end up just as fruitless as the ones preceding him as Duke gave up 4 runs in his first inning. Coming back out to start the fifth, he faced 5 batters and gave up a grand slam.
With the Gamecocks up 17-1 freshman pitcher Michael Simes put on maybe the most dazzling display of the weekend from anyone in a UMass Lowell jersey. His first inning of college baseball went 1-2-3, retiring the side in just 14 pitches. He would continue his run of form all the way to the end of the game as he pitched four scoreless innings with three strikeouts. Simes said of his performance, “I worked mostly sinkers and cutters today, I was just trying to miss barrels.”
Sunday’s game would end up being the tightest of the three contests with a final score of 12-1. Grad student pitcher Matt Draper had probably the best start of the weekend for Lowell as he threw 4 ⅓ innings and let up five runs. Neither offense nor defense could get going in this game with the River Hawks plating only one run on a Ryan Proto double. Yet on the same play, Proto would be put out trying to turn two bags into three.
While not unexpected by any means, the performance by the River Hawks showed that there are a ton of cracks in the armor. The fact that one of mid-major baseball’s best offenses could barely buy a hit all weekend is a concern.
Defensively very little can be said other than that the rust on the left side of the infield must be shaken off very, very quickly. Pitching wise not many people would have expected anything different for the River Hawks. The Gamecocks showed why they are a top 25 team in the nation and the River Hawk staff looks just as bare bones as it did last year.
While alarms should not be sounding in the River Hawk clubhouse, this series should be seen as a chance to take stock and make necessary adjustments. The River Hawks have a lot of work to do if they plan on making it anywhere close to the America East championship this year. Thankfully, time is on their side.
The following weekend, UMass Lowell flew down to the Sunshine State to take on the Eagles of Florida Gulf Coast in a three-game weekend series. They lost 2-8 on Friday, 6-7 on Saturday and 5-7 on Sunday. They now fly out to Virginia to face James Madison in a three-game weekend series from March 3-5.