Umpires and players not getting along is as old as the game of baseball itself. On Sunday afternoon, when the home plate umpire awarded Memphis’ Payton Marshall first base after a borderline 3-2 pitch from Jimmy Wang, it did not sit well with the UConn dugout.
An expletive or two was shouted along with some jeers, enough to earn the Huskies a formal warning from the man calling balls and strikes. For all that was said, the lone person to get removed from the game said not a single word.
Instead, the motion of flipping a coin by closer Jacob Wallace (no, he didn’t actually flip a coin) was enough for the third base umpire to remove him from Sunday’s series-clinching win and, per NCAA regulations, Tuesday’s game as well.
“It’s very difficult. It’s an emotional game,” head coach Jim Penders said on the third inning fiasco. “We were just upset because we thought that he had called the same height on Christian Fedko the inning prior I believe. It’s just an initial reaction. What we have to do better is, okay, after the umpire turns, shut up. Everybody's gotta shut up, including myself.”
The commotion only seemed to focus Wang. The tall right-hander, who struggled with his slider most of the day, was in full command of the fourth inning as he retired the Tigers in order in his last inning of work.
Though Memphis (17-16, 4-5 The American) was on Wang from the get-go, not a single Tiger crossed the plate until the eighth inning, long after Wang had been relieved by Karl Johnson and Caleb Wurster and after C.J. Dandeneau had retired two.
Chris Durham gave the Huskies (23-13, 7-5 The American) some fits at the plate. He no-hit the Huskies lineup through five innings and all but ended Anthony Prato’s 41-game on base streak (0-4).
Then came the sixth inning. Conor Moriarty kickstarted the inning with a double to the left-center gap before a misplayed Michael Woodworth bunt put runners on the corners. Anthony Nucerino slapped a base-knock to the outfield to bring home Moriarity, before the eldest Fedko came through with his first RBI single of the day, giving UConn a 2-0 lead.
The Tigers would not go down easy. A Wurster throwing error on a ground ball landed the runner on third, before a walk and a wild pitch from Dandeneau let a run cross. A single just two batters later wiped away UConn’s lead heading into the bottom of the eighth.
“If there was a flair for the dramatic, it’d be Christian Fedko,” Paul Gozzo said.
Fedko, one of the guys Penders constantly sees putting in the extra effort, saw it come to fruition in the bottom of the eighth. With Woodworth already on and a 2-0 count to John Toppa, the Tigers gave the captain first base to get to Fedko with two outs.
Feeling a bit disrespected, but confident in himself, Fedko drew his usual “3:16” next to the batter’s box, and in a 2-0 count, turned the next pitch he saw into a two-run single. The game-winning hit earned the sophomore second baseman the game ball, Penders said.
“I mean that’s why you wake up every morning,” Fedko said. “That’s why you go in the barn. That’s why you play right there, to come through in that spot. It’s what you dream about. It’s a relief. You feel like you dodged a bullet. We didn’t play our best baseball. We played better and tougher than yesterday, that’s what I wanted in the ballgame.”
Friday nights are Mason Feole nights, and the opening game of the series was no different.
Feole was “vintage Mason Feole,” according to Penders and those alike. The team’s undoubted ace and preseason All-American allowed one run to cross in almost seven innings on the mound (6.2).
“He’s good at making messes, but he’s really good at cleaning them up too,” Penders said on his Friday starter.
Though he fanned seven Tigers, Feole gave up just as many hits. He gave up a pair of hits in the first inning, including an RBI single, but that would be all the Tigers would scratch across the plate.
The junior southpaw would clean up after himself from there on out. Feole stranded runners in scoring position in the second, fifth and seventh before handing the ball to C.J. Dandeneau. Feole faced the minimum three times.
The UConn lineup had to dig deep and battle its way to a win. Though they could not get Feole the win, the Huskies were able to tie the game in the fifth.
Moriarty walked to start the inning and was followed up by a misplayed Woodworth bunt and a Nucerino sacrifice bunt, putting both runners in scoring position with one away. The job was easy for Prato, who lifted a fly ball far enough into right field for Moriarty to tag up from third base.
Though he had gotten just one out at this point, Nucerino would put Dandeneau in line for the win after his clutch hit in the bottom of the seventh. A pair of errors let two men on to start the inning, and a Woodworth groundout moved them into scoring position for the lefty Nucerino. Thriving from the two-spot in the lineup, the right fielder sent a pitch to the opposite field, putting his team ahead for good as both men came around to score.
Wurster, who has seen his role expand over the course of the season, came in to get one out in the eighth before Wallace used a pair of strikeouts to shut the door in the ninth.
“It’s almost like we made our own bad luck.”
That one line from Penders says it all about the Huskies’ 7-1 loss Saturday afternoon.
Outside of a squandered bases loaded opportunity in the first, Gozzo and Toppa were the lone stars offensively. Toppa reached the 200-hit mark in his three-hit afternoon, becoming the 20th Husky to reach that career milestone.
“It was definitely pretty special,” Toppa said on reaching the career milestone. “I honestly honestly set too many personal goals and milestones, but that was one of them.”
Gozzo was responsible for the lone Husky run with a solo blast in the seventh, his third long ball of the year.
Jeff Kersten got little help. A natural ground ball pitcher, Kersten gave up 10 hits, giving up four earned runs out of the six scored by the Tigers. The senior right-hander struck out five in his six innings of work.
Randy Polonia was the first arm out of the pen but surrendered a homerun to the one batter he faced.
Chase Gardner, Karl Johnson and Avery Santos shutout the Tigers from there, but the damage had already been done.
Next time out, the Huskies take on UMass-Lowell on the road before traveling down to Eastern Carolina for a three game-set with the team atop The American conference.
Kevin Arnold is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.