Baseball: UConn swipes final game of series from Houston

The Huskies went 1-2 this weekend against the visiting Houston Cougars (Ian Bethune/SB Nation)

UConn was up 6-4 in the top of the ninth inning, with two men on base and just two outs remaining to get the monkey off their back this Sunday against Houston. The Huskies had lost a devastating doubleheader to the Cougars on Friday in front of their largest crowd at Dunkin Donuts Park since they started playing there in 2016, and were looking to save face back in Storrs.

Unfortunately for UConn’s closer PJ Poulin, staring at him in the batter’s box was one six foot, 230 lb. monster of a monkey on the Huskies’ back by the name of Joe Davis. The slugger had absolutely tortured them on Friday, going 5-9 with two homers, two doubles and four RBI, and he was just raring to send one over the hedges and put the final nail in UConn’s coffin.

But Poulin had ice in his veins, and after not getting a crack at Houston on Friday, he jammed Davis on a fly out to first base and got left fielder Tyler Bielamowicz to ground out, getting the save and securing the win for the Huskies, 6-4.

“Every time I think their backs are to the wall, they respond in this kind of fashion, so it shouldn’t surprise me, I’m very proud of them,” head coach Jim Penders said in an interview on the team’s website.

The game itself was chock full of dramatics, as UConn tried desperately to steal one from the top team in the conference, and Houston looked to shut the door on the Huskies.

UConn went down in order in the first inning, but wasted no time getting on the board in the second, as Troy Stefanski reached on an error by the first baseman, was moved over to second by a Michael Woodworth single, and was brought home on the very next pitch by a Chris Winkel knock.

Chase Gardner got the start for the Huskies and acquitted himself well, allowing three hits and no earned runs in 3.2 innings of work. Gardner’s only blemish came in the third inning, when he mishandled a Bielamowicz bunt, allowing third baseman Jared Triolo to score from third in what would be the first of many responses from the Cougars.

Woodworth put the Huskies on top again in the fourth, driving in Feldstein with an opposite field single, but Houston struck back again in the top of the fifth, as Triolo hit an RBI single, and later scored on a sacrifice fly from Michael Lockhart to put Houston in the driver’s seat.

Back and forth the game went in that fashion, as Zac Susi scored Conor Moriarty with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the fifth, Christian Fedko hit an RBI single in the bottom of the sixth, and Houston center fielder Grayson Padgett tied it up yet again in the next frame with a towering homer to right field, making it 4-4.

Susi would extend his on-base streak to 36 games in a row in the seventh inning, when he pulled a double down the right field line.  

The game was all tied up in the bottom of the eighth, and UConn needed a spark, and they received one in the form of Anthony Nucerino, baserunning with reckless abandon.

Pinch running for Fedko, Nucerino advanced to second on a balk, and was going on anything with two outs. John Toppa gave him that opportunity with a chopper up the middle, and Nucerino bolted for home, twisting and writhing his body to avoid the tag from Houston catcher Kyle Lovelace, scoring the game-winning run for the Huskies.

“Nuce didn’t make a great baserunning play on Friday night, he knew that after the ballgame and wanted to make a play with his legs today,” Penders said. “We had take a chance there, so we send him and he makes a great slide, and he’s probably out without that great slide.”

Toppa reached third on that play and Anthony Prato drove him in with a double to deep right field, putting the Huskies up 6-4, where the score would stay for the rest of the game.

UConn is now alone in fourth in the American standings, 2.5 games back from Houston, but the Cougars are done with conference play so UConn will not hold a share of the regular season conference title this year. The Huskies fell three spots in RPI, down to no. 19 after the weekend, while Houston rose six spots with the series victory.

UConn will be up next against Rhode Island, as they travel to South Kingstown for their last midweek game of the season at 3:30 p.m. this Tuesday.


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