Baseball: Huskies struggle in disappointing loss to CCSU

A UConn batter takes a swing during the Huskies' 8-4 loss to CCSU at J.O. Christian Field on Wednesday March 23, 2016. (Tyler Benton/The Daily Campus)

The UConn baseball team picked up a disappointing result against in-state rival Central Connecticut on Wednesday afternoon, falling 8-4 on a brisk afternoon at J.O. Christian Field. The Huskies had won the last seven meetings between the two teams.

The Blue Devils (6-11) leapt out to an early lead in the first inning against UConn starter Andrew Zapata, scoring three runs in the first inning and four runs in the second to grab a 7-0 advantage. Zapata struggled with pitch control, and the third out eluded him: all four of the Blue Devils’ second inning runs came after he retired the first two batters he faced.

“We need a better start from our starting pitcher,” Penders said. “I expect more from Andrew [Zapata], and he expects more from himself. I’d have to go back and look at the video, but I would have a feeling that a lot of those pitches were middle, the way they were getting hit. He’s leaving stuff up and over the middle of the plate.”

Penders pulled Zapata from the game before he could even record the third out of the inning, turning over a long day of work to his bullpen. The Huskies used six relievers the rest of the way, and only Dan Rajkowski was tagged with a run.

With the bullpen keeping the deficit from ballooning further, UConn’s bats looked to work the team back into the game. Freshman John Toppa put the Huskies on the board in the fourth inning with a towering two-run home run to left field, cutting the lead to 7-2. The home run was the first of Toppa’s young career.

“[Hitting my first home run] would have felt a little better if we got a win, but it definitely felt good,” Toppa said. “I thought that might spark [the offense] a little, it didn’t, but it still felt great.”

CCSU starting pitcher Jared Gallagher got out of the fourth inning without any more damage, and then the Blue Devils went to their own bullpen after that. The Huskies could not string hits together as they have usually done this season, as their various attempts at rallying back were quashed, again and again.

“We have to give [the CCSU pitching staff] credit too,” Toppa said. “They kind of kept us off balance all game, they threw a lot of different styles at us.”

After Ryan Costello extended the Blue Devils’ lead to 8-2 with a solo home run in the top of the seventh inning, the Huskies fought back in the bottom of the frame with a trio of doubles from Willy Yahn, Bobby Melley and Joe DeRoche-Duffin. Those big hits cut their deficit to 8-4, but what was looking like a big inning ended quickly as CCSU pitcher Nick Plachno recorded two huge outs.

UConn (9-10) went quietly in the eighth and ninth innings, bringing a disappointing offensive effort to a close. Penders believed that his team may have had the wrong mindset at the plate.

“You got to take small bites. You’re not going to finish an all-you-can-eat buffet if you try to eat it all at once,” Penders said, referring to the offense’s attempt to battle back from a large early deficit. “You have to take it bite by bite.”

The Huskies have now lost four consecutive games, with only one more week remaining until the beginning of American Athletic Conference play. Penders acknowledged that the team needed to iron out their issues soon.

“We’ve been struggling, and our offense has not looked sync in a while,” Penders said. “I thought that Sunday was a low point, but maybe this is bottom. Hopefully this is bottom.”


Tyler Keating is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at tyler.keating@uconn.edu.