Baseball: Huskies suffer first AAC tournament loss, take on Memphis Friday morning

First baseman Tyler Gnesda takes a swing in the UConn Huskies' home opener against the Hartford Hawks at J.O. Christian Field on Wednesday, April 5, 2017. The Huskies lost the game 6-4.(Zhelun Lang/ The Daily Campus)

First baseman Tyler Gnesda takes a swing in the UConn Huskies' home opener against the Hartford Hawks at J.O. Christian Field on Wednesday, April 5, 2017. The Huskies lost the game 6-4.(Zhelun Lang/ The Daily Campus)

In a rematch of last year’s American Athletic Conference Championship, the UConn Huskies baseball team faced off against No. 25 Houston for a spot in the semifinals on Saturday. The Cougars looked like the better team for much of the day, avenging last year’s Championship loss with a 7-6 victory. However, the Huskies had a chance to win in the ninth, leaving the tying run on second base to end the game.

UConn (32-24) turned to ace Tim Cate for the start. Cate, coming off a complete game shutout last Thursday, wasn’t at his best. The sophomore threw 94 pitches in 5.1 innings and allowed five earned runs on eight hits and three walks.

Cate’s struggles can likely be traced to his performance against the leadoff batter of each inning. Houston’s first batter reached base in each of Cate’s six innings, including solo home runs from Corey Julks and Tyler Bielamowicz.

The Cougars (38-19) scored at least one run in six of their eight innings at bat. Meanwhile, the Huskies relied on a big third inning that accounted for four of their six runs in the game.

In that third inning, UConn benefitted from two errors by Houston shortstop Cooper Coldiron. Coldiron, playing in just his ninth game of the season due to injury, allowed Keith Krueger to reach when he was unable to make a play ranging to his left.

After a John Toppa single, Anthony Prato hit another ground ball to shortstop. Coldiron appeared to rush in hopes of turning a double play, but bobbled the ball and allowed everybody to reach safely. Isaac Feldstein later hit a three-run home run to deep right-center to put the Huskies ahead 4-1.

Houston would respond to the errors quickly, as Bielamowicz’s home run came on Cate’s first pitch in the bottom of the third.

After Julks’ sixth inning home run gave Houston the lead, Prato tied the game for the Huskies with an RBI single, plating Krueger. Prato continued his success in the conference tournament, hitting three singles and reaching base four times in the game. The freshman reached base in all five plate appearances in Tuesday’s win over Cincinnati.

Houston scored the eventual game-winning run in the seventh inning with the help of a couple UConn errors. Feldstein dropped a fly ball in right field to begin the inning and a Ryan Radue throwing error later allowed a run to score.

The Huskies rallied in the ninth when Prato hit another RBI single to bring UConn within one and put runners on first and second with one out. Houston closer Aaron Fletcher would then calm things down, striking out Zac Susi and Feldstein to end the game.

UConn moves to the loser’s bracket of the tournament, where they will play Memphis on Friday morning at 11 a.m. The winner of that game will then have to defeat Houston twice in order to make it to the Championship game on Sunday.

For the Huskies, junior Wills Montgomerie is expected to get the start in Friday’s matchup with the Tigers. UConn swept Memphis when they came to Storrs earlier this season, but Montgomerie was roughed up for six runs on seven hits in just two innings.


Josh Buser is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at joshua.buser@uconn.edu.