Baseball: Five run fifth helps UConn secure historic victory at Northeastern

 (Eric Wang/The Daily Campus)

(Eric Wang/The Daily Campus)

It was bound to be a close game no matter what on Wednesday when No. 18 UConn travelled to Boston to take on Northeastern in their toughest midweek contest of the season, but the Huskies prevailed in a wild 6-5 victory.

UConn scored five runs in the top of the fifth and withstood a furious comeback by the other Huskies in the bottom of the inning, reminiscent of UConn’s trip to Brookline two years ago where the Huskies scored six runs in the last two innings to earn the comeback victory.

“It’s something cosmic when the Huskies and Huskies get together, especially here in Brookline there seems to be late games and crazy finishes,” head coach Jim Penders said in an interview on the team’s website.

Wednesday was UConn’s 22nd road win of the season, the most in one season in program history, speaking both to the quality of the team and the circumstances surrounding this season, Penders said.

“These guy can hang their hat on that, they’re an incredibly resilient group,” Penders said. “They’ve battled injuries, they’ve battled broken down buses, they’ve battled missed flights [and] the worst flight schedule we’ve ever had.”

The Huskies struck first in the opening frame, as Anthony Prato and Zac Susi hit a pair of singles, Isaac Feldstein walked, and center fielder Troy Stefanski picked up an RBI to put the Huskies on top, but they wouldn’t be there for long.

Freshman starter Colby Dunlop pitched a solid first two innings, striking out two and allowing one knock through two innings, but ran into a rocky patch in the second when he allowed a double to Northeastern catcher Michael Geaslen to start the inning. The rookie then gave up a walk and two singles to drive in two runs and was soon pulled for reliever CJ Dandeneau.

Dandeneau then got both shortstop Matt Burx and third baseman CJ Solomon to pop out to left field, limiting the damage to just two runs.

Relievers Dandeneau, Dan Rajkowski and Jeff Kersten all had good outings, steadying UConn through the middle of the game with a combined 4.1 innings of work, tallying four strikeouts and allowing just three hits and zero runs.

The pitching got huge help from the fielding on Wednesday, especially in the third inning off a spectacular catch from left fielder John Toppa. Northeastern third baseman Ryan Solomon was at the plate with the bases loaded and hit the ball high and deep to left field. Toppa had time, so he backed way up, steadied himself against the wall, lept and caught the ball just before it exited the ballpark for good, keeping the Huskies within one run.

Meanwhile, UConn’s offense just couldn’t get much going after that first inning, leaving seven batters on base and going 0-4 with runners in scoring position, but that all changed in the top of the eighth.

The inning began very inauspiciously, as the meat of the UConn lineup was taken out of commision as Susi grounded out and Feldstein struck out.

The Huskies then got two great seven pitch at-bats in a row: Stefanski took a two-out walk, then Michael Woodworth lined one up the middle for a single, forcing Northeastern to go to their southpaw closer Misiaszek early with the big lefty Chris Winkel coming up.

Big mistake. Winkel pulled a double into left field, clearing the bases and giving UConn the lead for the first time since the opening frame.

Freshman Christian Fedko drove Winkel home in the next at-bat with an RBI single, then right fielder Conor Moriarty smashed his third home run of the year to left, and the Huskies were suddenly up 6-2.

They weren’t out of the woods though, not by a long shot. UConn flamethrower Jake Wallace was called in to face the middle of Northeastern’s order and started out well, striking out their cleanup hitter Max Burt, but he reached first on a throwing error.

Wallace then got designated hitter Zach Perry to fly out and Solomon to ground out, but not before giving up a wild pitch that advanced Burt to second.

Left fielder Cam Walsh then singled up the middle to score Burt, and pinch hitter Kyle Peterson hit a homerun over the right field wall to pull Northeastern within one.

Mason Koppens doubled in the next at-bat, and pitching coach Josh MacDonald had seen enough, bringing in closer PJ Poulin to record the final out of the inning, which he did successfully. Northeastern had crept closer though, and the score was 6-5.

UConn went scoreless in the top of the ninth, and Poulin was laser focused to close out the game. The veteran needed just five pitches to get the save, as two fly outs and a ground out ended a wild game.


Luke Swanson is a staff writer for The Daily Campus.  He can be reached via email at luke.swanson@uconn.edu.