UMass Lowell’s Ian Strom, bottom of pile, is mobbed by teammates after driving in the winning run to defeat Hartford, 3-2, during America East
UMass Lowell's Ian Strom, bottom of pile, is mobbed by teammates after driving in the winning run to defeat Hartford, 3-2, during America East baseball action Sunday at LeLacheur Park. Below, Jimmy Ricoy (23) and Danny Mendick are all smiles after Mendick scored the winning run on Strom's bloop hit. SUN/JULIA MALAKIE

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This past weekend the weather finally started to heat up. Which of course means the college baseball season is quickly winding down (yes, just as the earmuffs are being joyously put away).

UMass Lowell's inaugural Division 1 baseball season will end Saturday at Hofstra. With apologies to Bill Parcells, who back when he reigned over Jets training camps at Hofstra would snap "you are what you are" at any suggestion a team was better than its record, these baseball River Hawks seem better than their 19-20 record.

Either way, 19-20, including a win over an Atlantic Coast Conference school (Virginia Tech), constitutes a respectable first rodeo in D1 to this point. The River Hawks still have four non-league games remaining.

Jimmy Ricoy (23) and Danny Mendick are all smiles after Mendick scored the winning run on Ian Strom’s bloop hit to defeat Hartford in the ninth
Jimmy Ricoy (23) and Danny Mendick are all smiles after Mendick scored the winning run on Ian Strom's bloop hit to defeat Hartford in the ninth inning. SUN/JULIA MALAKIE

Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.
Coach Ken Harring has set two remaining goals: reach 20 victories, and finish with a winning record.

"I am proud of the fight in every one of our guys," he said. "We've never been completely out of a game."

This culture of grinding to every last out and rebounding from tough one-run losses (UMass Lowell has had 11 such losses this season) is established going forward. Opponents wearing that "Division 1" label never intimidated these D1 newcomers, probably because so many UMass Lowell players considered themselves D1 material when they signed on with Harring to a tradition-rich D2 program.

Even in an eventual 8-6 loss, confidence was impressively on display last Saturday when UMass Lowell scored three runs in the first inning against Hartford's 96-mph-throwing left-hander Sean Newcomb, a projected first-round draft pick.

"He goes to class just like we do ... puts his cleats on just like we do," said UMass Lowell's Ian Strom from Hopedale, who is raising hopes as one of the top freshmen in the America East Conference this season.

"We've impressed some people, (and) put ourselves on the map," said Strom (.310. 21 RBI). "But as players, we want to win every game. We've lost (11) games by one run. So (the record) could look different. We'll just continue to build and get better over the next couple of years. Just keep winning ball games, get new kids, keep coaching, keep playing together, keep working hard and the right things will happen."

After Hartford swept a doubleheader from UMass Lowell on Saturday, Harring noted his players were running "on fumes" after "finishing finals week."

But on Sunday, the irrepressible River Hawks walked off with a 3-2 victory over Hartford (29-18) when Strom blooped home Danny Mendick with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. These Rivers Hawks have been fun to watch.

Strom and junior shortstop Mendick (.322, team-high 4 HRs, 30 RBI, .466 slugging and .415 on-base percentages), a transfer from Monroe Community College in Rochester, N.Y., have made immediate impacts during UMass Lowell's maiden D1 voyage. And on Sunday, before the final home game of the season, the River Hawks also honored senior pitchers Garrett Cole, Shane Beauchemin, Nick Boutoures of Wilmington, and Mike Calzetta (that's a combined 12 wins, 4 saves and 178.2 IP right there), and senior outfielder Greg Wilson.

Meanwhile, the America East Conference Tournament is signed up for LeLacheur Park through 2017. The top four teams in the conference qualify for this year's tournament, May 22-25. The River Hawks finished their America East schedule at 10-10, tied for third at present with Binghamton, a game up on 8-10 Maine.

Regardless, the River Hawks will only sit in the stands of their home ballpark and watch. (Stony Brook, Hartford, Binghamton and Maine have clinched conference tourney berths.)

UML is not eligible for post-season play until 2018 under the D2-to-D1 reclassification guidelines.

"It's a pretty nice place," Hartford ace Newcomb said after pitching at LeLacheur on Saturday. "Pretty close to home, too, so that was nice."

Hmmm. Who knows? Were UMass Lowell a D1 program when Newcomb was coming out of Middleboro High, perhaps the allure of LeLacheur would have lured him to Lowell.

Hartford coach Justin Blood, a former Franklin Pierce pitcher who was drafted by the Seattle Mariners, is not surprised Harring's club has held its own in Division 1. It shows the strength of the Division 2 Northeast-10 Conference from which UMass Lowell came, he said.

"The NE-10. I played there. I coached there," said Blood. "Scott Loiseau, my ex-roommate, is the head coach at Southern New Hampshire. It's a great league. And many of those teams could perform at a Division 1 level.

"So it's not surprising that (UMass Lowell is) doing well," said Blood. "And with a facility like this, I'm sure they're going to be a tough team in the coming years."

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