It’s been practically impossible to get every member of the UConn baseball team in the same room at the same time this week.
It’s already hard enough with regular classes, even those scheduled around their usual mid-afternoon practice block, but add midterms and finals into the mix — you know, normal student stuff — and it gets even harder.
But neither that, nor their opponents lackluster record, would be an excuse for UConn going out this weekend and laying an egg in their four-game series against 3-11 Michigan State.
“I don’t think they’re gonna take them lightly. There’s so much information in the internet, the guys know how good their schedule has been too,” head coach Jim Penders said. “We’ve gotta go in there and make them less comfortable, and they only way you’re gonna do that is if you prepare like you’ve going to face the Yankees or the Red Sox.”
When to watch
Game one: Friday, March 15 at 5 p.m.
Game two: Saturday, March 16 at 1 p.m.
Game three: Saturday, March 16 at 5 p.m.
Game four: Sunday, March 17 at 11 a.m.
Where to watch
After one week of grainy video available behind a paywall, we’re back in the dark for this one. All games will either be broadcast on 91.7 WHUS FM or available to stream at WHUS.org.
What to watch for
UConn was able to win the series last weekend mostly without two-thirds of the top of their lineup. Anthony Prato and John Toppa went a combined 5-for-26, but were picked up by a pair of freshmen in the bottom of the lineup.
Patrick Winkel went 7-12 on the weekend and scored twice. Penders batted him in the cleanup spot regularly, a rarity among true freshmen in all of college baseball.
“Pat’s a middle-of-the-order bat, his swing is effortless (and) he’s very often on time,” Penders said. “He’s done a very good job so far and I expect him to just get better every game.”
Kyler Fedko’s bat finally woke up as well; he started every game over the weekend and made the most of it. He hit .333 last weekend, getting on base six out of the ten times he stepped to the plate. He seemed to see the ball better and also began to get a little luckier, something he was lacking in his slow start to the season.
“(Kyler) looks more like the hitter we recruited. He’s really hitting the ball hard, he’s having productive at-bats, he’s laying off pitches that he was swinging under or just plain missing the first two weekends,” Penders said. “He just looks dialed in.”
After having a tough time finding a Sunday starter this year — Joe Simeone, Colby Dunlop and Kenny Haus all have taken their turn in that spot — Penders will have to find a third and a fourth starter for the series this weekend.
Penders said after practice on Tuesday that Kenny Haus will get another chance to lock down the spot in addition to redshirt freshman Jimmy Wang, who is in line for the first start of his college career this weekend. Joe Simeone will move back to a major bullpen role.
He might not be ready to bolster UConn’s bullpen quite yet, but redshirt junior Randy Polonia, who hasn’t pitched in a competitive game since 2016, is throwing and will make the trip to Greenville.
Michigan State might have gotten off to a rough start themselves after their first losing season since 2009 last year, but they’ve played nearly as hard of an opening schedule as UConn.
They lost their season-opening series against New Orleans, and got swept by No. 17 Coastal Carolina, North Carolina State and Kent State by a combined 35 runs in Conway.
The Spartans then went on the road again to Temple, once again getting swept by No 25 Arizona State. Their only three wins have come against New Orleans, Arizona and Ohio State. Anything can happen come conference play, but Michigan State is already behind the eight-ball in their attempt to make the tournament.
Their offense has been mostly anemic, scoring an average of 3.8 runs per game, 259th-most in the country. It’s been propped up mostly by junior Justin Antocic. The first baseman is the only Spartan hitting over .300, but second baseman Royce Ando and shortstop Marty Bechina have been barreling up the ball, slugging .435 and .468 respectively while combining for 10 extra-base hits.
Their rotation is headlined by big junior Mike Mokma, who has posted a 2.05 ERA through four starts, and All-Big Ten sophomore Mason Erla. The latter has had a rocky first four appearances, allowing opponents to hit .360 against him.
However poor of a start to the season Michigan State has had this year, it’s worth noting that this weekend’s series is less of a neutral site game than UConn would like. The Spartans have been making the trip to Greenville every spring for ten years, and they’ve already played at Fluor Field three times this season.
“They’re very comfortable in that ballpark and they’re gonna have an advantage over us,” Penders said. “That’s their home away from home and we’ve gotta go in there and make them uncomfortable.”
Luke Swanson is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.