For the first time in the 123-year existence of the UConn baseball program, the Huskies had not once swept a four game series, ever. Thanks in-part to a two-win Saturday afternoon, UConn changed that in its weekend matchup with Michigan State.
“We’ve got a lot of respect for them. Every time we punch, they seem to punch… Everytime Michigan State scored, we scored in the next half inning,” head coach Jim Penders said following Friday’s game.
The same mindset carried over into Saturday's doubleheader. Any time Michigan State put a run or two on the board, UConn answered right back.
The Huskies dominated game one. The lone blemish was a four-run second inning for the Spartans, but that would be all they would get, falling 17-4 in game one of the day.
Kyler Fedko’s two-run single opened up the scoring in the first, allowing Antony Prato and John Toppa to make their ways across the plate. Fedko and his older brother would make their ways around the bases after Chris Winkel smacked a double into the right-center gap later in the inning.
After his 10-game hitting streak ended in Friday’s game, Michael Woodworth started right back up with a two-run single, capping off a six-run first inning for the Huskies. Woody finished with two hits and three RBIs in the first leg of the doubleheader.
Jeff Kersten got the nod and earned his first win of the season despite a rough second inning. He would go six innings, allowing just the four runs and struck out five of the 29 batters he faced.
UConn scored in four of the following five innings, racking up the most runs scored in a game this season. The eldest Winkel captured his second multi-hit game this year after a single and another double plated a career-high four runs. Anthony Prato reached base nine times between the two games and has reached base in 23 consecutive contests dating back to last year.
Karl Johnson struck out four in his two innings of shutout relief, but all eyes were on Randy Polonia in the ninth.
With the game’s victor decided early on, Polonia took the mound for the first time since 2016. He gave up one hit and struck out a batter in his first inning on the hill since in 1015 days, last pitching in the NCAA tournament against No. 1 Florida before undergoing Tommy John surgery following the season’s end. He then sustained a lat injury a year ago to end his season.
“For two years he hasn’t been able to do what he loves more than anything,” Penders said. “It’s one of those goosebump moments when he comes out of the ‘pen.”
Game two of the day was more of the same: MSU scores, UConn follows. Penders said there was “good flavor in the dugout all day,” as the team knew they needed to keep scoring runs.
Toppa’s RBI single in the first was answered with an RBI fielder’s choice in the bottom of the inning, setting up UConn to strike back in the second.
A Paul Gozzo double, one of his three hits, plated a Fedko and a Winkel as the Huskies retook the lead. The sophomore catcher now has three multi-hit games, playing mainly as a reserve and designated hitter.
UConn matched MSU’s two-run fourth with a two-spot of their own in the top of the fifth, giving the Huskies the lead for good.
Kenny Haus proved to be solid in his start, earning the win in his five-innings of work. The junior right-hander gave up five hits and three runs with a walk-to-strikeout ratio of 3:1.
A big eighth inning sealed the deal for the Huskies win when a Pat Winkel two RBI single was followed up by a two-run moonshot from Christian Fedko.
It was the first time UConn won a game without a save, and they did it twice in one day. Caleb Wurster and Joe Simeone, now back in his bullpen role, gave Wallace a much-needed rest day after combining for four innings of shutout relief and six strikeouts.
The Huskies went punch-for-punch with Michigan State in game one, following any Spartan’s score with a score of their own.
UConn landed an early right hook when Chris Winkel touched all three bags, scoring Christian Fedko on the junior first baseman’s second triple of the season. Winkel, and his younger brother Pat, were responsible for seven of the 10 runs scored in Friday’s series opener.
Kyler Fedko kept his bat hot following last weekend’s series, going 2-for-5 on the day including a younger brother collaboration when he knocked in the Pat Winkel on a third inning double.
The Huskies chased MSU’s Mason Erla out of the game after the fifth inning. Taking the loss, Elra let six runners cross on nine hits. He gave three batters a free 90-feet, while sending another three back to the dugout on strikeouts.
Mason Feole made his first Friday start of the season to open up the four-game series with the Spartans. Though he did not get the win, the Huskies ace managed his way into the fifth on 98 pitches, and even touched 94 mph on the radar gun.
“Every time out there is better. It's just he’s not completely in sync yet,” Head coach Jim Penders said postgame. “He threw a couple of really good breaking balls but didn’t really command it... It's another piece of the puzzle. He’s coming along though.”
Feole hit a rough spot in the fifth. After giving up just two runs in his first four innings, he let the first three batters reach base, making Penders bring in Avery Santos out of the ‘pen. With Feole still responsible for the runners on base, Santos let up a double, a sac fly and walked in another to bring cut UConn’s lead down to 6-5.
UConn two-run jab in the next half-inning. Anthony Prato scored on a Kyler Fedko walk and the elder Winkel knocked in another on a base hit. The Huskies tacked on another run in the seventh and ninth to seal the 10-6 victory.
Looking to shut down MSU, Penders was forced to lean on C.J Dandeneau longer and earlier than he had hoped. In three innings of work, the righty gave up one run on two hits and struck out six and earned his second win of the season.
Jacob Wallace got the job done, entering the game in the eight for a four-out save. He touched triple digits on an inning-ending strikeout in the eight, earning his fifth save of the season.
The Huskies needed just six runs and held MSU to just one, to clinch a series sweep Sunday afternoon.
“I was very happy with the way the guys competed,” Penders said on the series as a whole. “When they don’t do well, I let them know. When they do, do well, I let them know. That was really really good.”
“It was good UConn baseball games all weekend. Everyone in uniform contributed,” Penders added.
Jimmy Wang took the mound as a starter for the first time, but did not get the win in his career-high 4.2 innings of work. The six-foot-three right hander from Michigan surrendered just one run on six hits, while hanging up three K’s compared to a pair of walks.
Woodworth powered the Huskies offense. With three hits in four at-bats, Woody knocked in three runners. His towering shot of a home run hit off the building behind the field in the eighth inning, capping off his seven-RBI weekend.
“I think if you were to take an honest poll of his teammates, they’d say he’s the best player on the team,” Penders said of his Juco-transfer center fielder. “He’s got a New England edge to him despite being from California.”
The senior earned the game ball for his work at the plate and for flashing the leather out in the field. Using his tremendous speed, Woody robbed a Spartan of extra-bases with a diving catch that Penders did not think he’d get to.
It took a combination of Colby Dunlop, the eventual winning pitcher, Chase Gardner, Johnson and Wallace to finish the game. The group collaborate for six strikeouts, a walk and a hit in four and a third innings of work.
After a rough start to the season, the Huskies’ bullpen seemingly figured it out this weekend, combining for one run allowed in 16.1 innings of work in the entire series.
UConn is gearing up for the start of conference play with Houston next weekend, but have to make a pit stop for a game against Virginia beforehand. The Huskies will take on UVA at 4 p.m. on Wednesday for their first midweek action of the 2019 season.
Kevin Arnold is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.