Fresh off their first home loss of the year, UConn came back on Wednesday not ready to drop two in a row as they handed UMass- Lowell a 9-4 defeat.
“The guys responded in a good way, it just took us a while to get out of the gate,” head coach Jim Penders said.
“It was good to get back on the left-side of the ledger, but it was an ugly, ugly baseball game. We gotta play better this weekend,” Penders added.
It was a very Storrs-esque game with plenty of high-speed wind gusts. Combine the wind with the fielding surface of J.O Christian Field, and the nine total errors on the day make a little more sense.
Fly balls danced in the air before fielders could make a play, taking Kyler Fedko victim in the third. Ground balls found ways in and out of gloves, all setting up for five giveaways by the River Hawks on top of the 10 hits and eight walks the Huskies earned.
“That’s a J.O.C day. The wind is blowing and it’s gonna wreak havoc,” Penders said. “It’s a tough place to play. It has to be tougher for the opponent than us, and it was, marginally, it was tougher for them… We need to be able to adjust a little bit.”
Penders felt his squad did not take advantage of the entire field, with the given playing conditions, forcing the coaching staff to play a little smaller, like a bunt off the bat of 6-foot-2 Kyler Fedko. Penders said swings were long and guys were not competing in the box as they normally do, outside of Anthony Nucerino.
Nucerino was a boost at the bottom of the lineup, recording his first multi-hit game of the year and jump-starting the offense in the fourth with a hard hit single in the left-center gap.
Mike Woodworth and Anthony Prato each scored in the third to put the Huskies up early before UMass-Lowell tied things up with a long ball and a pair of doubles in the next inning. Nucerino responded in the bottom half of the fourth with his single and scoring on a Woodworth single. A John Toppa RBI single allowed Woodworth to come across.
Two River Hawk errors and three Husky hits in the fifth saw UConn’s lead grow to 7-2. Conor Moriarty, who got the start at third, brought in a run on a sacrifice fly, while Prato brought in a pair on a single up the middle as part of his third multi-RBI game of 2019.
Pat Winkel, playing for the first time since the four-game sweep over Michigan State, brought his older brother home in the sixth as part of a two-run inning. UConn would go down silent in the seventh before an eighth inning error let pinch-runner Angus Mayock score the game’s final run.
By the time UConn’s lead had grown to five, starting pitcher Colby Dunlop’s day was done. In five innings of work, the sophomore right-hander struck out three and scattered four hits on a day where his curveball was not landing where he wanted.
“Felt pretty good. Didn’t have my best stuff today, but I feel like I competed pretty well and got a good result,” Dunlop said following his third win of the year.
After Dunlop’s exit came Caleb Wurster for an inning of work and taking care of all three batters he faced.
Randy Polonia was next and was the only reliever to allow any runs to score. A rare error from Prato and a single put a pair on. In the next at-bat, Polonia threw the ball into centerfield on a pick-off attempt, moving both runners into scoring position. He would get the next guy out before a double brought in both runners and ended Polonia’s afternoon.
Chase Gardner, C.J Dandeneau and Jacob Wallace got the job done from there, as Wallace faced the minimum and sat mostly between 95-97 MPH on the gun in a non-save situation.
Next up, the Huskies get to stay in state for an American Athletic Conference matchup with Cincinnati. The first weekend series at home for UConn opens up Thursday for a practice instead of travel and will be the first practice on J.O.C of 2019.
What has the players more excited than practice is the two games scheduled for Dunkin Donuts Park in Hartford. Though the team has played there before, they are more than excited to play in the home of the Yard Goats, the Double-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies.
“I say it all the time, Dunkin is my favorite place to play,” Moriarty said. “And I mean we travel so much, we see all these different ballparks and whatnot and I think Dunkin, what they got going down in Hartford, is awesome. I think the atmosphere is great, we get a lot of fans, we love playing there, we’re all jacked up for it, so I’m really looking forward to it. I wish we could play all three there.”
For Penders, well, he’s just happy the team does not have to fly down south for the weekend.
“First Thursday since Feb. 7 that we haven’t been in an airplane, so that’s nice too. We might pretend to go through TSA so they [the players] feel at home.”
Kevin Arnold is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.