The bats finally came alive for the UConn baseball team as they defeated the Bryant Bulldogs, 6-3, at J.O. Christian Field on Wednesday afternoon.
“Overall, it was a much different team than the one that was dressed in our uniforms yesterday,” head coach Jim Penders said. “We looked more like ourselves.”
Starter Sam Nepiarsky got off to a rocky start after hitting the first batter of the game. After retiring the next batter, Bryant (20-7, 9-1 NEC) recorded three straight hits to drive in three and give the Bulldogs a 3-0 edge to start the game.
UConn (16-15, 2-3 The American) failed to capitalize on a Jack Sundberg leadoff hit in the bottom of the first, and the score remained 3-0 after one.
Nepiarsky started the top of the second by walking the first batter, and Penders had seen enough. He immediately yanked Nepiarsky and replaced him with redshirt freshman Jack Riley, who tossed 2.2 scoreless innings.
“Jack Riley wasn’t even on the travel list this past weekend; he’s certainly made his case for being around,” Penders said. “We always tell them that they get what they earn. There’s no roles given; they have to earn them. [Riley] earned another couple opportunities for sure.”
The Huskies started to chip away in the second inning after two straight singles from Joe DeRoche-Duffin and Willy Yahn, and a walk from Connor Buckley.
Two straight failed double play attempts for the Bulldogs scored two for the Huskies, cutting Bryant’s lead to 3-2 at the end of two.
In the top of the fourth, Penders went to the bullpen for the third time to bring in sophomore Joe Rivera for just his third appearance all season. With two on and one out for Bryant, Rivera was able to induce two fly ball outs to keep it a one-run game.
To lead off the bottom of the fourth, DeRoche-Duffin smacked his sixth home run of the year over the left field fence to knot the score, 3-3.
“I felt pretty good about it. I hit something hard. I’ve been struggling a bit for the last couple weeks,” DeRoche-Duffin said. “I’ve tried to work really hard, late nights in the barn, and I think it paid off today.”
DeRoche-Duffin’s homer may have been the spark that UConn needed.
The Huskies took the lead for the first time in the bottom of the fifth. After John Toppa lead off the inning with an infield single, Aaron Hill sacrificed him to second. Sundberg singled to center to put runners at the corners, and Bryan Daniello reached on a fielder’s choice to drive in Toppa and give UConn a 4-3 edge.
Bobby Melley ended the inning by ripping a long double into the left field corner to clear the bases and extend UConn’s lead to 6-3.
Rivera pitched three more scoreless innings before being replaced by Doug Domnarski after giving up a leadoff single. It was the longest appearance for Rivera all season at 3.1 innings.
“I didn’t think I would be relied on that much,” Rivera said. “As a bullpen, you just got to be ready to come in any situation and just make your pitches and do your job and get outs. That’s what we’re there for.”
Neither team would score again, and 6-3 became the final score. Domnarski and closer Randy Polonia combined to pitch a scoreless eighth and ninth, with Polonia earning his fifth save of the year.
UConn broke a scoring slump that saw them score four or less runs for five straight games. They’ll put their three-game win streak on the line when they take on a powerhouse in the Houston Cougars in a three-game weekend series.