Baseball: Strong pitching powers UConn past Tulane

Aaron Hill (center) squares up to hit a pitch against Colombia during a game on Saturday, March 26 at J.O. Christian Field in Storrs. Hill went 2-for-4 with one run and one R.B.I. against Tulane on Friday. (Zhelun Lang/The Daily Campus) 

The UConn baseball team (13-11, 1-0 The American) defeated conference rival Tulane 9-4 on Friday, behind a stellar pitching effort by junior Anthony Kay and a continuous wave of Tulane miscues and errors.

“His fastball location was excellent, and just executed in and out. And we weren’t getting high strikes, so I thought he did a good job adjusting to the umpire’s zone,” head coach Jim Penders said. “He was able to throw his changeup, and his changeup is a very tough pitch on righties.”

Tulane (18-8, 0-1 The American) is informally ranked No. 27 in the nation, but they certainly weren’t living up to their expectations. The Green Wave committed three errors and several other miscues, many of which eventually resulted in UConn runs.

The Huskies took a little time to get started, but were aided by a big inning. After jumping out to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second courtesy of a John Toppa single, they led off the bottom of the fourth with a baserunner after Joe DeRoche-Duffin was hit by a pitch. Alex LeFevre followed suit after Bryan Daniello struck out, and Troy Stefanski singled to load the bases.

Then the miscues started to pile up.

With bases loaded and one out, Toppa sent a soft liner into center. Tulane center fielder Grant Witherspoon misplayed the ball, allowing DeRoche-Duffin and LeFevre to score. Aaron Hill reached first after Tulane first baseman Matt Rowland dropped a pop-up, scoring Stefanski. After Jack Sundberg struck out, Willy Yahn reached on a throwing error by the shortstop to extend UConn’s lead to 6-0.

“They definitely gave us a few free ones. But the big thing is that we cash in on them. They would make an error, and it might not score a run, but we kept the line moving and did something that we could control,” Toppa said.

The Huskies tacked on another run in the bottom of the fifth to make their lead 7-0 heading into the top of the sixth.

Through five innings, Kay was tossing a perfect game. Tulane had absolutely no answer for Kay’s unhittable changeup and perfectly located fastball.

That is, until Kay began to struggle with his own command.

After retiring the first man in the inning, Kay allowed his first baserunner of the day with a walk. He sent down the next batter, but walked the next two to load the bases. Ahead in the count, freshman Grant Witherspoon smacked a grand slam over the right field fence to bring the Green Wave within three runs.

Kay picked up his seventh strikeout of the day to end the sixth, but not before the damage was done. However, he remained on the mound for one more inning and did not allow any more runs.

“I need him to go deep, and I needed him to throw the seventh inning”, Penders said. “I was really proud of the way Anthony buckled down. The reason we put him back out there is exactly what you wound up seeing. He was the guy who struck the guy out with a runner at third base and one out, and found a way to get him to strike out.”

The Huskies wasted no time responding to Tulane’s four-run inning. They scored two runs in the bottom of the sixth to balloon their lead to 9-4. Bobby Melley and DeRoche-Duffin each picked up an R.B.I.

The score would remain the same all the way until the end. Redshirt freshman reliever C.J. Dandeneau pitched two more scoreless innings. He now has a scoreless inning streak of 11 to kick off his first year of eligibility.

Perhaps the player with the biggest day all was Toppa. He was able to get UConn on the board first and cash in runs in clutch situations. Even after somewhat struggling his few previous games, he still oozes confidence.

“I was able to work myself into some advantage counts and get some pitches to hit,” said Toppa. “I had a good batting practice and was able to make a few mental adjustments. Even though I hadn’t been able to get the job done before, I had a ton of confidence coming in.”

While the majority of UConn’s scoring opportunities were set up by Tulane miscues, Toppa knows that Tulane is a better team and will likely clean up their defense tomorrow, but that won’t change the Huskies’ approach.

“We’re not going to change out mindset at all,” Toppa said. “We’re just going to play with the same swagger and fire that we have.”

UConn will gear up bright and early tomorrow to close out the series with a doubleheader. The first game is slated to begin at 11 a.m. with red-hot Tim Cate on the mound. Freshman Ronnie Rossomando is scheduled to start the second game for the Huskies.


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