Junior Chris Winkel added three runs to his team-leading RBI count, but that’s all the Huskies could muster against Virginia, losing 6-3 in Charlottesville on Wednesday in the final tune-up before conference play.
Winkel crushed a three-run home run, his second of the season, in the second inning, handing UConn a 3-0 lead. However, the Cavaliers blanked the Huskies from there and tacked on five runs in the seventh and eighth to steal a win.
UConn (11-7) had won seven of its last eight, including a four-game sweep of Michigan State last weekend. Having yet to play at home, the Huskies are now just 3-5 in road games compared to an 8-2 record on neutral sites.
Outside of Winkel’s homer, it was a frustrating day for the Huskies at the plate. They loaded the bases in the third with no outs, but were unable to add to the lead. After the game, head coach Jim Penders talked about how that was a much-needed opportunity for UConn.
“We gave them the momentum back, and momentum is so precious in college baseball,” Penders said. “Against a very good ballclub, on the road, you only have so many opportunities.”
Sophomore Colby Dunlop had his strongest start of the season, tossing 5.1 innings of one-run, two-hit ball with four strikeouts. He allowed a solo shot in the fourth, but exited leading 3-1. For one of the first times this season, the UConn bullpen did not close the door.
“Colby was very good, and he needed that,” Penders said. “That’s how he looks against our guys so it was nice to see it against a different uniform.”
After Caleb Wurster threw a clean frame in the sixth, CJ Dandeneau ran into trouble in the seventh. He walked the first batter he faced and the next reached on catcher’s interference. A pair of RBI singles later, Virginia (10-10) had tied it up at 3-3.
Dandeneau retook the mound for the eighth, and that might be a decision that Penders regrets. The redshirt senior lost his command, allowing four more baserunners before being replaced by Joe Simeone. Dandeneau was charged with three more runs allowed and the loss, moving to 2-1 on the season.
“This was a great primer for conference play,” Penders said. “Every game that we play in the conference is against a quality opponent, much like [Virginia]…Houston always has a good ballclub, always well-coached, they’re going to be prepared.”
After Friday, the Huskies will play the majority of their remaining games against conference opponents, beginning with a three-game series against Houston this weekend.
Houston (10-9), also opening up conference play against UConn, was shut out by McNeese last time out. Picked to finish second in the American in the Preseason Coaches’ Poll, it’s been a slightly disappointing season for the Cougars, though they did take two of three against then-No. 24 Arizona.
Senior firstbaseman Joe Davis is one of the most feared power hitters in the conference. He leads the conference in RBIs with 27 on the year, and his eight home runs are second-most. On the mound, senior righthander Ryan Randel has been Houston’s best starter, compiling a 2-1 record and 2.30 ERA in five starts.
The series starts on Friday at 7:30 at Don Sanders Field at Darryl & Lori Schroeder Park in Houston. If your dog wants to make the trip down, the series is the Cougar’s annual “Bark in the Park” weekend. The Huskies—the human kind—will try to open up conference play with a series win.