Head coach Jim Penders likes to think that the trademark of this year’s UConn men’s baseball team is resilience, and they had to show plenty of it in Conway, South Carolina, this weekend.
UConn went 2-2 against some of the best teams in the country, with tough losses against Indiana and No. 19 Coastal Carolina on a Saturday doubleheader ringed by wins over Northeastern and No. 25 Illinois.
“I told the guys, hey, if you told me we’d be 2-2 at the end of this weekend at the beginning of the year on this trip, I would’ve signed up for it,” Penders said. “I’m not telling them that beforehand, but in retrospect, especially after the way that we played yesterday and didn’t compete very well, to see us bounce back today and show us some resilience and toughness…really helped kinda right the ship.”
UConn started out the weekend with a balanced 7-4 win over their little brothers in Northeastern.
The Winkel brothers were responsible for UConn’s first three runs of the weekend, as a pair of sacrifice flies from Patrick in the first and third innings and an RBI single from Chris put UConn up 3-1 after a solo home run from Northeastern’s Luke Farrell.
Anthony Prato continued his hot streak early in the weekend, going 3-5 with a double on Friday. John Toppa, Christian Fedko and Chris Winkel also had multi-hit games.
Jeff Kersten stayed steady and ate up innings for the Huskies, allowing three earned runs and striking out four. His only problem spot came when he walked two and hit another Northeastern player to load the bases, then allowed a two-RBI single from Corey DiLoreto making it 3-3.
Conor Moriarty’s bat was quiet for most of the weekend, though he did have an RBI single in the fourth inning to put the Huskies in the lead, where they would stay for the rest of the game. A Toppa double and an RBI single from Fedko earned UConn some insurance runs, making it 6-3.
Veteran reliever C.J. Dandeneau earned his third career save, going 2.1 innings allowing one hit, one earned run and striking out a pair. It was a clean, tidy day for the Huskies bullpen-wise, UConn’s only one of the weekend.
In what’s become somewhat of a theme this season, UConn was rolling early in game two of the weekend against Indiana but would eventually fall in the end 9-6.
They got on the board first as the red-hot duo of Prato and Toppa both got hits to put them on second and third, and both got home off a wild pitch and a Patrick Winkel sacrifice fly. Michael Woodworth would add to the lead in the third with his first home run of the season, making it 3-1.
Joe Simeone was rolling early in his third start of the season, facing the minimum through the first three innings, but began to fall apart after that. The sophomore was shaky in the fourth, giving up two runs on a pair of hits, then gave up a leadoff home run to Indiana’s catcher Wyatt Cross in the next frame which gave the Hoosiers the lead.
Simeone was pulled for Avery Santos, who didn’t fare any better in the fifth inning. The redshirt senior gave up three hits and two more runs to make it 5-3, only able to record one out before he was pulled.
UConn kept the conveyor belt of relievers moving in the sixth, as Caleb Wurster was first up, issuing a walk and hitting Crail before being pulled for Angus Mayock. The big freshman gave up two consecutive hits, a bloop single to the nine-hitter Jeremy Houston and a grand slam to Indiana’s All-American Matt Gorski.
This was basically the end of game one for UConn. It was 9-3, and although they would fight back with a run in the sixth and two in the bottom of the ninth, it was clear UConn had a lot to work on going into the second game of their doubleheader against the hosts.
The Huskies went punch-for-punch early on in their matchup with No. 19 Coastal Carolina but eventually fell 10-7 in game two of Saturday’s doubleheader.
The Chanticleers got going early after a single through the left side plated two runners in the bottom of the first. UConn wasted little time in responding after Thad Phillips’ first home run of the season tied the game at two in the top half of the second.
Toppa kept the runs coming in when he homered to left with Prato on base. The senior left fielder would go 3-for-5, scoring and striking out twice in his first three-hit game on the year.
CCU tacked on a run in the second and third, chasing Kenny Haus off the mound. The junior right-hander gave up four hits, four runs, and three walks while striking out two, and hitting another, in his first start in 2019.
Jimmy Wang was thrown right into the fire when he replaced Haus for the fourth inning. Two walks and a single loaded the bases before the freshman sat the next batter down looking, but he was not out of the woods just yet. A hit batsman and a wild pitch were sandwiched by a pair of two-run singles, leaving CCU with an 8-4 lead before Wang could escape the inning.
A bunt single from Toppa kicked off the top of the fifth for UConn, before scoring on the first of two Christian Fedko hits. Chris Winkel joined the multi-hit club with a pair of singles, the second of brought Fedko home. Phillips ended the inning’s scoring with a sacrifice fly, bringing the Huskies within a run.
The Huskies would not score again, while the Chanticleers added a run in each the fifth and sixth.
Chase Gardner, Colby Dunlop, and Karl Johnson all made appearances, combining for 3.2 innings of work while walking six and allowing just one run on two hits.
The Huskies’ resilience was on full display Sunday afternoon in their 7-4 comeback victory over No. 25 Illinois.
It was not the first start of 2019 Mason Feole had in mind. After arm discomfort sidelined him for the first two weekends of the season, the preseason conference pitcher of the year was smacked around early in his season debut, giving up a pair of solo home runs in his first inning on the hill.
“He could’ve crumbled, I’ve seen a lot of guys crumble but he worked his way into a little bit more of an established guy today with the way that he competed and showed some fire,” reliever Caleb Wurster said.
Feole would make it through three, giving up just one more hit, striking out two and surrendering three walks on 59 pitches.
The Huskies brought themselves within a run after Mike Woodworth scored on Prato double, and David Langer brought home another on a fielder’s choice.
The UConn bullpen kept the game locked at 3-2, blanking the Fighting Illini in the fifth and sixth. Wurster and C.J Dandeneau combined for four innings pitched and six strikeouts in their relief appearances while giving up just a run on three hits. Dandeneau earned his first win of the season.
After being kept quiet for two-straight innings, the bats woke up for a big UConn seventh inning. A walk to Prato loaded the bases, setting up a Toppa RBI fielder’s choice to tie the game. Christian Fedko gave his team the lead after getting hit by a pitch. Two more bases-loaded walks brought in two more runs as part of a 10 batter, four-run inning.
The Huskies would tack on another run after Jacob Wallace was scored on in the top of the eighth. Wallace earned his fourth save on the season in a six-out effort, striking out four and walking one.
Next up, UConn will travel to San Marcos, Texas, for a three-game set with Texas State.