The UConn baseball team visited Hartford’s new Dunkin’ Donuts Park to begin the final weekend of the year against East Carolina. In front of a large crowd of 2,828 and an electric atmosphere all night, the Huskies were led by a dominant performance from sophomore Tim Cate and earned a crucial 6-0 win.
“I have to thank UConn Nation for coming out strong,” UConn head coach Jim Penders said. “We really appreciated that showing… it’s a beautiful ballpark, it took a long time to get it open, but they did it right and we want to come back.”
UConn (30-22, 13-9 the American) DH Alex LeFevre definitely wants to come back to Hartford. The redshirt senior got the scoring started in the third inning, launching the first home run of his UConn career into left field.
“He threw me a changeup and I just got the barrel on it and it went pretty far, luckily over the fence,” LeFevre said of his home run. “After it went over the fence… I just… I still don’t even know, I mean it was awesome.”
The three-run home run and LeFevre’s emotional, fist-pumping jog around the bases gave the Huskies a huge boost in momentum and brought the crowd into the game early. LeFevre went 2-3 in the game, also reaching base on a walk and a double down the right field line.
LeFevre maintained his hero status for the Huskies, building off of UConn’s previous win where the redshirt senior hit a walk-off single to beat Rhode Island. The backup catcher transferred to Storrs after two years at UConn Avery Point. Last season, LeFevre batted .281 in 57 at bats throughout 23 games. This year, LeFevre is batting just .269 on 52 at bats in 20 games, but Penders has put him in the lineup more often lately.
“Alex rescued us,” Penders said after the Huskies left runners on base the first two innings. “The fifth-year senior, the kid they call ‘Grandpa,’ he’s like our David Ross. Now he’s getting his chance to play… now it’s his time and we’re going to play the hot hand.”
Sophomore ace Tim Cate was superb on the mound for UConn. Cate pitched a brilliant complete-game shutout, needing just 109 pitches to get through the game and allowing five hits and four walks while striking out eight.
“When he’s on, he’s the best pitcher I’ve ever seen,” UConn catcher Zac Susi said of his starter.
The Huskies’ defense turned three double plays in the game, helping to keep Cate’s pitch-count down and allowing him to go the distance. The eight strikeouts give Cate 199 for his career and 98 in his sophomore campaign. The lefty finishes the regular season with a 4-3 record, a 2.94 ERA and 70.1 innings pitched.
“He didn’t have his best stuff,” Penders said of his ace’s performance. “But that’s how good his stuff is. It can make a really good lineup look not-so-good.”
The Huskies offense was led by three multi-hit performances on the night. Susi and Troy Stefanski joined LeFevre with solid games at the plate, with Susi recording an RBI single as part of a 3-4 night. Anthony Prato added another RBI single and Willy Yahn drove in a run on a sacrifice fly.
UConn entered the day in fourth place in the American Athletic Conference standings, but just one game behind the three-way tie at the top between USF, UCF and Houston. Penders’ team can finish anywhere from first to fifth depending on this weekend’s results.
The Huskies will look to win the remaining two games against ECU at J.O. Christian Field this weekend to prepare for next week’s AAC Tournament. The final two games of the regular season will be Friday at 1 p.m. and Saturday at 3 p.m.
Josh Buser is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.