Baseball: Huskies struggle in midweek tilt with UMass

UConn catcher Alex LaFevre takes a swing during UConn's 4-1 victory over No. 25 Houston at J.O. Christian Field on Saturday April 16, 2016. LaFevre is hitting .300 in 12 starts. (Zhelun Lang/The Daily Campus)

The UConn baseball team dropped its midweek contest against UMass by a score of 9-5 on Tuesday at Earl Lorden Field in Amherst, Mass.

After last Wednesday’s 6-3 win against Bryant, head coach Jim Penders hinted at the possibility that a young, underused bullpen arm would get a chance to log more innings.

Penders elected to start reliever Joe Rivera, who had previously thrown a season-high 3.2 scoreless innings out of the bullpen on April 13.

As it turns out, the sophomore may have a long way to go. 

After UMass (8-17, 2-7 Atlantic 10) jumped out to an early 1-0 lead, the Huskies (19-16, 5-3 The American) tied the game in the top of the second. Tyler Gnesda, who has sat out of the lineup the past few weeks, smacked a one-out double and was eventually driven in by John Toppa for his 12th RBI of the season.

UConn would tack on another run in the top of the third thanks to a Joe DeRoche-Duffin single, giving his team a 2-1 lead.

That was the Huskies’ only lead of the game. The pitching began to falter as the Minutemen knocked Rivera out of the game in the bottom of the third after a one-out walk, a failed pickoff attempt, and a single scored a run for UMass to tie the game at two apiece.

Rivera was replaced by redshirt sophomore Sam Nepiarsky, who didn’t even record an out as he proceeded to load the bases. He was promptly substituted for freshman Dan Rajkowski, who was able to get back-to-back strikeouts to limit the damage.

After going down 1-2-3 in the top of the fourth inning, the carousel began to spin for the Husky bullpen.

Rajkowski’s day was done after letting the first two Minutemen reach base. He was replaced by Trevor Holmes, who only recorded one out before giving up a walk, a bases-clearing double and a single that knocked him out of the game.

Senior Nico Darras came in as the third pitcher of the inning and was able to induce the double play.

UMass had scored three runs on four hits with one error, committed by second baseman Aaron Hill while Holmes was on the mound. After leading 2-1, UConn now found themselves trailing 6-2.

The Huskies wasted no time chipping away at UMass’ lead, as they scored three runs in the top of the fifth to bring themselves within one run. Sophomore Willy Yahn, senior Bobby Melley and DeRoche-Duffin each recorded an RBI.

UConn would get its last good look in the top of the seventh, when they loaded the bases with two outs.

Toppa went down swinging to end the inning, effectively wasting the last chance UConn had to, at the very least, tie the game at six.

UConn burned through another pitcher, freshman P.J. Poulin, until the bottom of the seventh inning. After plunking a batter, Poulin was yanked for freshman Randy Polonia, who was able to get the final out.

Getting outs would prove to be harder in the bottom of the eighth. Polonia gave up a single and a one-out triple to UMass’ Dylan Morris, who had five RBIs for the Minutemen. Junior Doug Domnarski then gave up two more runs on one hit, which extended UMass’ lead to 9-5.

UConn drew a two-out walk but nothing more in the top of the ninth, and the Huskies fell 9-5, snapping their six-game winning streak.

Unlike over the weekend, the Huskies recorded nine hits but were unable to capitalize in big situations.

UConn will make the short trip to UMass-Lowell on Wednesday to take on the River Hawks at Edward A. LeLacheur Park. First pitch is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. 


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.