The 2019 UConn Huskies aren’t your average group of college ballplayers. Coming off the program’s first sweep since 2017 and first four game sweep, ever, after Sunday’s 6-1 victory over Michigan State, there was one place the team wanted to be: the weightroom.
“What’s great is that the guys are asking if they can lift here before we get on the bus,” head coach Jim Penders said. “I haven't had many teams that would wanna, after four games, to get a quick lift in. So that’s great. Good attitude about the bunch right now.”
The Huskies hope to carry that good attitude into the first weekend of conference play in their series with Houston. But before the trip to Houston, UConn heads to Virginia to take on the Cavaliers and the longest tenured coaching staff in the country in their first mid-week action of the season.
When to watch
Wednesday, March 20 at 4 p.m.
Where to watch
Tune into ACC Network or ESPN3 to watch, or you can listen on 91.7 WHUS FM.
What to watch for
UConn’s Penders and UVA head coach Brian O’Connor enter Wednesday’s matchup as the two longest tenured head coaches, along with the rest of their respective staffs, in the entire country. Each in their 16th season, Penders and O’Connor combine for 1,193 wins, with O’Connor (668) ahead by over 100. Though UVA is under .500, Penders still carries a lot of respect for the program just four years removed from a national championship, but likes his team’s chances.
“Virginia is a very good team, national champions just a few years ago. Got all the respect in the world for their coaching staff. Coach O’Connor does an amazing job. His staff is fantastic…They do it the right way,” Penders said. “So we’re going to go in there with a lot of respect but I think we should go in there and compete like we did this weekend. I like our chances against anybody in the country if we compete like we did this weekend.”
A bright spot from the weekend, that had otherwise been a question mark in 2019 was the bullpen. Other than a few arms, relief pitching had been an area of concern for this Husky team until their combined 16.1 innings of one-run relief.
C.J Dandeneau and Jacob Wallace have been staples out of the bullpen with the Huskies (11-6) needing a save in every win this season, until the MSU series. Wallace recorded his fifth save of the season, touching triple digits on the gun, but he had a supporting cast to help. Karl Johnson, Caleb Wurster, Joe Simeone and Colby Dunlop proved reliable in their shutout appearances, often times pitching more than an inning.
“The bullpen answered some questions. Everyone did their job pitching wise,” Penders said. “That was not the case the first several weekends. And they got it done. They did a really good job, threw more strikes, trusted the defense.”
Chris Winkel’s performance against the Spartans earned him a spot on the AAC Weekly Honor Roll. Hitting safely in seven of his 17 at-bats, the junior first baseman hit two doubles and three triples while driving in seven runners.
Like Winkel, center fielder Mike Woodworth drove in seven runs in the four-game set to keep his bat engulfed in flames. Despite losing a 10-game hitting streak in Friday’s game, the senior bounced back in the first half of the double header with a pair of hits and three RBIs. He would finish the series 5-of-14 at the plate after a three hit game on Sunday, maintaining his batting average lead over his teammates (.368).
“He plays with a great intensity, a chip on his shoulder,” Penders said of the JUCO transfer. “He just does things the right way. He knows how to play the game the right way. He’s got one speed.”
Just a game under .500, the UVA Cavaliers (9-10) have faced some top competition early on in 2019. Virginia dropped games to, then, No. 2 Vanderbilt, No. 17 TCU and No. 24 Cal State Fulton to open the season at the MLB4 Collegiate Baseball Tournament. The Cavaliers followed up by sweeping three games from Villanova and a pair from Wager before dropping two games each to Duke and Georgia Tech.
Tanner Morris is the most complete hitter in UVA’s lineup. The sophomore infielder combines power and average to bat .338 with team highs in slugging (.571), RBIs (16), doubles (9) and total bases (44).
Like Morris, classmate Brian Rivoli does a bit of everything at the plate, and can do it well. Batting a team-best .360, the backstop has a pair of long balls to his credit to accompany 15 RBIs ad a .520 slugging mark.
PItching, unlike the bats, has kept UVA from winning games. Griff McGarry’s 4.21 ERA is the best of anyone starting in the blue and orange. He is 2-3 in his five starts with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 28:24.
The bullpen is a conglomerate of players giving up a lot of runs in not a lot of innings. Four pitchers have 10-innings of work or more under their belts. Those four have given up 36 runs in 48 innings of work. Opponents are hitting .273 against a pitching staff that has just one save. This should create some opportunities for a UConn lineup that exploded for 42 runs in four games last weekend.
Kevin Arnold is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.