Baseball: Pitcher Rivera shines as Huskies take down Bryant

Joe Rivera delivers a pitch during UConn's 6-3 victory over Bryant at J.O. Christian Field on Wednesday April 13, 2016. Rivera earned his first career win in 3.1 innings pitched. (Jason Jiang/The Daily Campus)

The UConn baseball team battled back from an early deficit to pull out a 6-3 victory over Bryant University on Wednesday afternoon at J.O. Christian Field. After giving up three runs in the opening half-inning, the Huskies used a couple big hits to pull ahead into the lead before Randy Polonia closed the game in the ninth inning. With a series against conference power Houston looming this weekend, UConn has won three straight games.

Rivera carries Huskies through middle innings

UConn head coach Jim Penders elected to start reliever Sam Nepiarsky on Wednesday for the second time this season, as the Huskies went starter-by-committee against Bryant. With UConn playing their fifth game in six days, none of their usual starting pitchers were available.

Nepiarsky gave up three earned runs as he lasted just one inning, but the two pitchers behind him had much more success. Jack Riley gave up just two hits over 2.2 scoreless innings, and after him Joe Rivera went 3.1 scoreless innings of his own. Rivera allowed one hit as he picked up his first career win in just his third appearance of the 2016 season.

“I didn’t think that I was going to be relied on that much, but as a bullpen [pitcher] you just got to be ready to come in any situation and just make your pitches,” Rivera said.

Rivera came into a jam created by Riley, who gave up a pair of singles with two outs in the top of the fourth inning. Rivera began strongly by inducing an inning-ending fly out, and followed that up with a quick 1-2-3 inning in the fifth.

“You always have to have confidence when you come in,” Rivera said after the game. “If you have any negative thoughts, you’re not going to do as well as you’d like to. Confidence was definitely a big part of it today.”

Rivera worked through the sixth and seventh innings quickly, leaving after a leadoff single to begin the top of the eighth. By that point in the game, the Huskies had built up a 6-3 lead, and the bullpen closed the deal to secure the win. After a rough start, Rivera was the unlikely steadying hand that guided UConn to victory. He finished with 3.1 innings pitched, allowing one hit and one walk while striking out three Bryant batters.

“Joe Rivera was sensational,” Penders said. “He had everything working, kept them off-balance, and gave us a chance to get to Doug [Domnarski] and Randy [Polonia] at the back end of the game.”

Melley hits career milestone

UConn senior Bobby Melley achieved a career milestone with a towering two-run double in the fifth inning, as the hit moved him into a tie for the most hits among active NCAA Division I players. The double was No. 252 of his UConn career.

“I’m very lucky that I’ve been healthy through four full years now, and I’ve played every game that I’ve been here,” Melley said after the game. "I think health is the main reason, and hard work has gotten me to this point. It’s been a good career.”


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