After a rain delay that lasted three and a half hours, the UConn baseball team (13-12, 1-1 The American) fell to Tulane (19-8, 1-1 The American) by a score of 14-5 at J.O. Christian Field on Saturday.
Originally slated to begin at 11 a.m., first pitch was pushed back four different times due to weather. The game eventually started at 2:30 p.m., under an overcast sky with temperatures in the upper 40s.
“We’re from New England, so we’re used to the cold,” catcher Zac Susi said. “Being up from here, you know you’re going to have delays and stuff like that, so we were prepared for it. … I think we did a good job with preparation.”
The Huskies may have prepared well, but found themselves to have very little firepower against Tulane starter Emerson Gibbs. UConn only garnered four hits off of the righty, striking out seven times in the process. Senior Jack Sundberg had the best day, going 3-for-4 with two runs scored.
Sundberg got the Huskies going in the bottom of the first by singling and stealing a base to lead off the game, but Gibbs sent the next three Huskies down in order to erase the scoring threat.
UConn starter Tim Cate was able to keep Tulane off the board for three innings, giving his team optimal chances to score. In the bottom of the second with two outs, Susi singled and Troy Stefanski walked to put two men on for Aaron Hill, but he went down swinging.
Both teams went down 1-2-3 in the third inning. With the fourth inning approaching and Tulane being held hitless, Cate had every reason to keep his confidence.
Until the Green Wave came crashing in.
Coming into the day, Cate had an astronomically low 0.40 ERA. However, he soon lost control of his breaking pitches – namely his curveball – and had to resort to his fastball to get strikes.
This did not bode well for Cate and the Huskies. After retiring the first batter to start the top of the fourth, Cate walked the next man and gave up a towering two-run home run to freshman Grant Witherspoon.
Cate then allowed the next two men to reach base before striking out the next three batters to retire the side. However, the damage had been done.
“They got to him a little bit. The home run… he’s not used to that. He’s not used to giving up hits, let alone home runs,” head coach Jim Penders said.
The pitching completely fell apart in the next two innings. Cate was replaced with redshirt freshman Dan Rajkowski after walking the leadoff man and giving up two more hits and two more RBIs to start the top of the fifth.
With Tulane leading 4-0 in the fifth, Rajkowski then gave up back-to-back home runs as the Green Wave extended their lead to 7-0. Rajkowski was immediately replaced with freshman P.J. Poulin, who was able to limit the damage and retire the next two men.
The Huskies did get on the board in the bottom of the fifth after Willy Yahn singled in two, but that would be the only response the Huskies would have until the bottom of the seventh.
In the top of the sixth, the Huskies committed a season-high four errors as Tulane scored four more runs to balloon their lead to 11-2. The Green Wave batted around the order for the second straight inning.
UConn was able to minimally close the gap in the bottom of the seventh, scoring three runs courtesy of a Yahn RBI, a passed ball and another RBI from Bryan Daniello to make the score 11-5. However, Tulane responded by scoring three more runs in the top of the eighth to bring the score to 14-5, which would end up being the final score.
Susi found himself having a busy day behind the plate. The Huskies sent seven different pitchers to the mound, almost all of which were struggling with their breaking pitches. Despite the workload and the less-than-ideal playing conditions, the freshman was still very confident in his ability.
“Yeah, it was a long day, but it’s my job, it’s what I’m supposed to do. I’m supposed to block balls in the dirt,” Susi said. “I gotta pick up the pitcher when he makes a mistake, and even when the pitch has to be down there, I gotta do my job to keep it in front of me.”
While the cold weather may not have affected the players, it certainly took a toll on the playing field. The dirt was damp and cold and the outfield grass was wet, which is a perfect recipe for ground balls to take bad hops.
Penders, however, was unwilling to lay any of the blame on the field.
“The field’s the same for both teams. We knew the field conditions weren’t going to be very good,” Penders said. “But we didn’t play very well. I’m not going to blame it on the field.”
Because of the weather, the rubber match was canceled, resulting in a split series between the two teams. UConn will take the field again on Tuesday at Northeastern University. First pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m.