Baseball: UConn takes home opener against Yale

Willy Yahn takes a swing during UConn's 8-2 victory over Yale at J.O. Christian on Tuesday March 8, 2016. (Amar Batra/The Daily Campus)

The UConn baseball team (6-4) opened up their first home game of the season with a resounding 8-2 victory over in-state rival Yale at J.O. Christian Field on Tuesday.

Freshman catcher Zac Susi had his best game of his collegiate career so far, going 3-for-4 with two R.B.I while catching for five different pitchers. Sophomore Willy Yahn collected three hits and one R.B.I. on the day. Not far behind him was junior Tyler Gnesda with two hits and three R.B.I.’s.

“I think we did a really good job of being patient and waiting for our pitches,” Susi said. “When we got them, we made their mistakes into hits and turned those into R.B.I.’s.”

Bobby Melley and Bryan Daniello both also contributed an R.B.I. Junior starter Andrew Zapata tossed six strong innings, giving up only two hits with zero earned runs, two walks and four strikeouts.

Home field advantage

It was a game that head coach Jim Penders called “the earliest game we’ve ever played at home” as both a player and a coach. Luckily for him and the Huskies, the temperature topped out at nearly 62 degrees under sunny skies.

While the weather was certainly nice for spectators, it was not a large factor on the quality of gameplay. Being able to play a game at home sandwiched between two long road trips, however, is a big stress reliever.

“Being at home is great. It’s so much better than being on the road,” Gnesda said. “You don’t have people yelling at you and stuff.”

Penders was pleased with the way the team rebounded from the weekend, when they dropped two out of three against the Liberty Flames. However, he attributed much of that to pure luck.

Both teams hit the ball hard, but UConn’s hits seemed to find gaps while Yale’s hits found gloves. The Bulldogs also made their fair share of mistakes, whether it be bad cutoff throws, misreading a fly ball or making an errant throw.

The umpires were quite generous as well, for both UConn and Yale alike. A lot of borderline calls ended up going the Huskies’ way.

“We got a lot of luck at J.O. Christian field, which is how it should be when you play at home,” Penders said.

Last year, the Huskies were 9-7 while playing at home, and 30-21 during day games. It was their first win in a home opener since 2013.

Game of two’s

The number two was, oddly enough, a prominent theme throughout the game. The Huskies collected five of their R.B.I.’s with two outs. Zapata threw two wild pitches—the first two of the season for any UConn pitcher. He also only let up two hits. Two players, Melley and Gnesda, both collected two hits. Two more players, Melley and Yahn, each scored two runs apiece.

Not to mention that first pitch was thrown at 2 p.m.

While many of these numbers may seem coincidental, the two-out R.B.I.’s were an important statistic. The Huskies struggled to capitalize with runners in scoring position over the weekend, and their efforts to change concentration showed big time in Tuesday’s contest.

Gnesda specifically found that overthinking was hurting his approach at the plate, so he focused on calming down and he “let myself do my thing.”

“The whole team seemed more confident today. We weren’t stressing or pressing as much,” Gnesda said.

Perhaps the most impressive stat involving the number two was the two hits that Andrew Zapata let up over the course of six innings. The two hits weren’t very convincing either—they snuck past the fielders and were able to find spots just outside of the defender’s reach.

Zapata was largely motivated by his relatively poor performance in his last two outings. He said once he started to “focus on throwing one pitch at a time, not thinking too far ahead,” he found himself in more control of the game.

However, the most important thing ended up being the influx of runs that the offense produced.

The first four runs of the game, scored in the first two innings, came with two outs. Zapata was thankful that his teammates were able to take the burden of worrying about the score off of his back.

“There’s no pitcher that’s going to complain when there’s a long inning, because that means that your team is scoring runs,” Zapata said. 


Stephanie Sheehan is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at stephanie.sheehan@uconn.edu. She tweets @steph_sheehan.