UConn baseball played small-ball for what seemed like an entire weekend’s worth of games in their series-clinching 4-1 win against Texas State on Saturday. Both teams had scored once early, but neither were able to cross the plate in the middle innings despite plenty of chances.
Thus, the Huskies tried to manufacture runs. Starting in the seventh, five consecutive innings started with UConn’s leadoff man reaching first base and the next batter getting out in an effort to move him to second. Five different times, it failed at putting UConn ahead.
Catcher Paul Gozzo was the first man to bat in the top of the 12th and succeeded. He sent a high fly ball over the left-field wall for the go-ahead run.
“I was just trying to get on base any way that I could,” Gozzo said after the game. “As you go later in the game you see more pitches and you get more comfortable.”
Michael Chiovitti was up next and hit one over the fence in the other direction, then John Toppa would make it 4-1 with an RBI single later in the inning. So much for sacrifice bunts.
“We were talking about it in the dugout, I said ‘I think it’ll take a bomb,’ because we weren’t able to get that knock with a runner in scoring position,” head coach Jim Penders said.
Jake Wallace prevented the Bobcats from doing the same. The junior pitched a career-high 3.2 innings in the contest, earning the save and only allowing a single hit.
Mason Feole did his part in his second start returning from injury as well, going 4.1 innings without allowing a single hit.
UConn scored their only run before extra innings in the first, as John Toppa hit a sacrifice fly to score Anthony Prato from third. Texas State would take a while to answer, scoring on a throwing error by third baseman Thad Phillips in the sixth inning.
Freshman Patrick Winkel was on fire Saturday as well, leading the Huskies with three hits, adding to his total of seven on the weekend. The younger Winkel would raise his batting average from .167 to .333 in only three days.
The 8-4 scoreline might not reflect it, but UConn wouldn’t even have gotten in series-winning position on Friday without their bullpen and defense in their series-opening victory.
“Hopefully it’s a lesson to some of these other guys out of the bullpen, just trust your stuff and let your defense do the work,” head coach Jim Penders said.
UConn jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead, as Christian Fedko drove in John Toppa with an RBI double, but starter Jeffrey Kersten began to lag early on. He gave up four consecutive hits in the third inning, back-to-back singles followed by a double and a triple, that gave the lead to Texas State 3-1.
The Huskies would get the runs back in the following frame, taking advantage of a few wild pitches from Bobcat ace Zach Fraze to take the lead back 4-3, then blew the game wide open in the next inning.
Patrick Winkel doubled to the gap in right-center, one of his three hits on the night, and would score on yet another mistake by Fraze, a throwing error that allowed Christian Fedko to reach.
“I knew what I was going up there to get and I saw that he was starting people fastball early, so I thought if I can get a good swing out there it would be the best plan for me,” Winkel said.
Starting catcher Thad Phillips would give the Huskies some insurance two batters later with a two-run homer way over the left field wall, making it 7-3.
Meanwhile, UConn’s bullpen was gearing up to face a nasty Texas State lineup. First, Caleb Wurster would come out of the pen to replace Kersten when he faltered in the fourth, only allowing one base-runner and earning the win.
Redshirt freshman Jimmy Wang replaced Wurster and pitched for a career-high 3.0 innings, his only blemish a balk to score a run in the sixth inning. He was picked up quickly after by Michael Woodworth, who went crashing into the centerfield wall to rob extra bases from Chase Evans. Wang only let up one hit and struck out a pair, successfully setting up C.J. Dandeneau for the save.
After their big series win on Saturday, UConn failed in their bid for their first sweep since 2017, however, falling to Texas State 5-3 on Sunday.
The Huskies struck first for the third time of the weekend, capitalizing on singles from Patrick Winkel (who else) and Christian Fedko to lead off the inning. Kyler Fedko drove in his fellow younger brother with a sacrifice fly, and Chris Winkel sent his fellow older brother on the team with an RBI single, making the score 2-0.
Like his last start, Joe Simeone was pitching well through his first couple of innings but hit a wall in the third. He gave up three consecutive hits to start the inning which led to three consecutive runs, and Texas State wouldn’t give the lead back.
Texas State’s starter Connor Reich, on the other hand, was cool under pressure. He went 7.1 innings and 92 pitches, allowing plenty of traffic on the basepaths but not allowing much to cross the plate.
With Simeone chased out of the game in the third inning and both Dandeneau and Wallace unavailable, it figured to be a bullpen day and they kept the Huskies within striking distance for the most part.
Caleb Wurster entered in the third and went 2.1 innings, allowing two hits and a run, Wang returned and allowed just one hit in one inning but suffered from control issues, as did Chase Gardner and Karl Johnson, but they didn’t let the Bobcats blow it open, only adding runs in the fifth and eighth innings.
Cole Brodnansky would get one back with a solo home run in the top of the seventh in his first career start, the only Husky with a multi-hit game.
UConn’s home opener on Tuesday against Hartford has been postponed to Tuesday, March 26, so their next game will occur on Friday at 5 p.m. against Michigan State.
Luke Swanson is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.