Everything is bigger in Texas, or so the saying goes. Hopefully, the same will hold true for the performance of the UConn Huskies baseball team as they look to build on their solid start to the year as they take on the Texas Longhorns in one of their most challenging matchups of the season.
UConn (3-1) looked like the far better team last weekend on their way to their best start to open a season in over 10 years. Standing out for the Huskies was the play of their freshmen, such as Anthony Prato and Conor Moriarty, who each got home runs in their debut series. Prato, in particular, batted .600 for the opening weekend and tallied six RBIs to begin his college career. The Huskies will surely look to build on this impressive start to the year
“I thought the guys competed really hard and probably the biggest takeaway for me was the newcomers’ contributions,” head coach Jim Penders said, per UConn Athletics. “They did a really good job, they were thrown into the fire and responded the right way.”
The likely starters on the mound for the Huskies this weekend will be the same as last weekend for the most part. Last week, freshman lefty Mason Feole earned his first career win, striking out seven batters and only allowing three hits in six innings of work. Doug Domnarski, on the other hand, earned UConn’s first loss of the season on Sunday, allowing six earned runs on six hits in just one inning. A start against the Longhorns this weekend may be a chance for the senior southpaw to redeem himself.
“I think Doug Domnarski deserves another opportunity,” Penders said. “Right now, Tim Cate is going to go Friday night, Wills Montgomerie is going to stay on Saturday and we’re going to give Doug another opportunity on Sunday. Everybody is entitled to a bad day and Doug had a bad day last Sunday. I expect better out of him this weekend.”
On the injury front, the Huskies will still be without junior third baseman and co-captain Willy Yahn, who is recovering from a broken hand. Sophomore outfielder John Toppa could be back in the lineup this weekend after struggling with an injury late in the pre-season, but he will need a few last looks before re-claiming his spot in the outfield.
“Right now, [Toppa] is cleared to hit. He hit [Tuesday] under some restrictions but he did hit live,” said Penders. “We’re going to try to get him some live at-bats tomorrow morning before we take off, but he will hit batting practice at Texas. So as long as nothing goes wrong here in the next 48 hours, he’ll be on the trip and hopefully we can get him in the lineup, probably in the designated hitter role.”
The Longhorns (3-2) have recently undergone a coaching change, hiring David Pierce as their new manager after Augie Garrido resigned after last season. Pierce should be somewhat of a familiar face to the Huskies, having coached American Athletic Conference rival Tulane for the last two years.
Garrido won two championships in his 20-year tenure at Texas, which has had a long history of success in college baseball. The program has won six national championships, including the two with Garrido at the helm in 2002 and 2005. The history of the program, along with countless appearances in the College World Series, may be frightening to some visiting schools, but Coach Penders is all business when it comes to this weekend’s series.
“We’re going up against one of the most storied programs in the history of college baseball. The guys know that, I know that,” Penders said. “I’m excited about it too, but you can’t allow that to get in the way of the task at hand, which is basically slowing the game down and playing one pitch at a time… It’s still baseball and we need to go about our business.”