Baseball to run the gauntlet in Conway, South Carolina

UConn and Hartford step back on the field for the double header on Friday Mar. 31. Pitcher Chase Gardner retired 14 batters in a row, leading to a Huskies victory, 1-0. (Photo by Jon Sammis/The Daily Campus)

UConn will travel to Conway, South Carolina this weekend to take on four of college baseball’s elite in the Coastal Carolina Baseball Tournament, looking to bounce back from their disappointing series loss in the Palmetto State last week.

When to watch

UConn will face Northeastern on Friday at 10:30 a.m., Indiana on Saturday at 10:30 a.m., the hosts, No. 19 Coastal Carolina on Saturday at 2 p.m. and No. 25 Illinois on Sunday.

Where to watch

All four games will not be televised, but you can listen to them on 91.7 WHUS FM or at WHUS.org.

What to watch for

Everyone expected UConn’s bats to wake up after their series against No. 8 Louisville, and they did to some extent. The Huskies hit .270 in Charleston, and several key pieces on the team woke up their bats.

Michael Woodworth went 6-for-13, Anthony Prato went 5-for-13, John Toppa went 4-10 and UConn continued to get great production out of their catcher position (5-for-10), but not much out of the rest of the lineup.

UConn’s starting pitching has been a similarly bipolar situation. Jeff Kersten continued to impress as the Friday starter, where he will remain this week, but the rest of the rotation isn’t nearly as reliable.

The good news is UConn’s rotation should get a pretty big shock to the system this weekend. Mason Feole will make his season debut on Sunday against Illinois and Joe Simeone will maintain his place in the weekend rotation after two solid starts in two weeks. Junior college transfer Kenny Haus will replace Colby Dunlop — who struggled mightily in his first two starts of the year — after an impressive two-inning hitless outing against a potent Louisville lineup.

UConn’s first game comes against regional rivals Northeastern, their first of two meetings on the year. The other Huskies are 4-2 on the year, dropping two of three to Houston Baptist, but storming back with an impressive win over Missouri and a series sweep of South Dakota State.

Northeastern is coming off of their best season in program history in 2018, where they went 33-17 and earned their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2003. Northeastern returns many major key players from that team, including right fielder Corey DiLoreto and second baseman Scott Holzwazzer, who both have started off the season ablaze with averages well over .400.

Junior David Stiehl, a Manchester native, will start the game for Northeastern on Friday against his hometown team.

Indiana has been to five NCAA tournaments in the past six years, but have a lot to replace after their head coach, Chris Lemonis, left for the same position at Mississippi State. Ace Jonathan Stiever and all-conference outfielder Logan Sowers both left for the draft as well, giving new head coach Jeff Mercer a clean slate.

Outfielders Logan Kaletha and Matt Gorski headline the returners for Indiana; the latter led the team with a .356 average last year. UConn should avoid Indiana’s most dangerous pitcher, senior Pauly Milto, and will instead draw big righty Tanner Gordon, who let up six runs in eight innings in his first two starts.

UConn’s biggest challenge of the weekend will come on the second game of their Saturday doubleheader against 7-2 Coastal Carolina.

The Chanticleers are on a skid of sorts, having lost their last two games against No. 20 North Carolina State and College of Charleston, but hosting a tournament with four premier teams in the country might wake them up a bit.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have one of the best-hitting lineups in the country. Coastal Carolina is hitting .336 as a team this year, led by All-American second baseman Cory Wood and first baseman Zach Biermann, who adds tremendous pop to the lineup.

UConn will face lefty junior Anthony Veneziano, who throws mid-90s on a good day but has had control issues throughout his career.

UConn will wrap up their weekend gauntlet on Sunday against No. 25 Illinois. The Illini are undefeated on the year, powered by a top of the order off to a massive start. All-American designated hitter Michael Massey and center fielder Zac Taylor are both hitting over .400 through six games.

Feole will face off against righty Cyrillo Watson, who also reaches mid-90s with his fastball. Watson might be the least consistent member of Illinois’ pitching staff, demonstrated by his last two outings, where he pitched six scoreless innings against Sacred Heart, then turned around and gave up five runs in five innings against Florida Atlantic.

Going .500 this weekend wouldn’t be bad against such stiff competition, but taking three out of four would be a huge confidence boost for a team coming off of a poor performance last weekend.


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