Seven words. That was all Jim Penders offered on what his team, who dropped back-to-back weekend series, needed to start a three-game set with Wichita State the right way.
“Mason Feole needs to be Mason Feole.”
With Dunkin Donuts Park and the city of Hartford as his backdrop, the undisputed ace of the Huskies’ staff proved why he is he just that: the ace.
“He was great tonight. He wasn't just good, he was great,” Penders said on his friday night starter. ”That’s the first time all year i can say he was truly great. He was Mason Feole great.”
Penders told Feole he was tired of the five and six inning starts. He asked for seven innings and a lead and Feole responded.
The junior southpaw tossed 119 pitches across seven dominated innings of work in the series-opening win, allowing just two hits and a pair of walks on top of his season-high 10 strikeouts. Feole (250) climbed into third place all-time for career punchouts, trailing only Tim Cate (270) and Anthony Kay (263). He’s the only pitcher on the roster to hit double-digit strikeouts this year.
“It just felt good,” Feole said on his command. ”We’ve been working a lot throughout the week on establishing that and making sure that was there. The fastball command still wasn’t what I’d like it to be, but the mindset to just compete and to just throw that fastball and try and get it by guys is that mentality our whole staff has had. It felt like I didn't have that and tonight i was able to do that.”
With the way the preseason All-American selection was dealing, the offense could have given him just a run to work with and the result would have been the same. Instead, they gave him four, with three coming in a big third inning effort.
With one out, Anthony Prato lined a double to the right-center gap, moving John Toppa all the way to third. Bringing in runners in scoring position has been an area of concern for the Huskies lineup, something Michael Woodworth changed that - momentarily - when he lined a 1-0 pitch to centerfield, bringing Toppa in from third.
Two batters later, Kyler Fedko extended his hitting streak to seven games when his single to centerfield let Prato and Woodworth make their way all around the bases.
Thad Phillips added an insurance run in the seventh when Michael Chiovitti made his way home from second on a soft single through the left side.
Feole left a minimal amount of work for the men in the ‘pen. C.J Dandeneau was the first man out and promptly struck out two in the eighth and another in the ninth in his attempt of a six-out save. A single followed by a hit batsman forced Penders to bring in his closer. Jacob Wallace pushed his save total to double-digits after he struck out the lone man he faced, capping off a 4-0 Friday night win.
Saturday: Game 1
Sunday’s forecast called for some not-so-baseball-friendly weather, so the teams decided to play two games Saturday afternoon.
Jeff Kersten was challenged with following up the near impeccable Feole performance from the night prior and boy did he give it his best shot in the first act of the two-game feature.
“I felt like he pitched well,” Penders said of his game one starter. “He never tries to do too much with his stuff, and his stuff is good. It’s not like it's below average. He does a really good job competing and not getting spooked by a little contact. He knows what he's gotta do.”
Apart from a fifth-inning solo home run, Kersten cruised through nearly six innings on the hill. The senior right hander struck out five, scattering five hits and a couple of walks over the course of his 85-pitch outing. An E5 separated him from a full six innings and being replaced for Caleb Wurster.
“Yeah I feel confident,” Kersten said of the bullpen. “I’d feel a little more confident if I was going six or seven, but I trust what they’re doing out there. Just a little disappointed. Double header today, tried to save some arms for game two. Got the job done, got game one.”
The Huskies attacked Shockers’ starter Clayton McGinness early, but not so often, forcing the right handed senior to throw 42 pitches in the first. With Prato and Woodworth stationed at first and second, Christian Fedko, the designated hitter in both halves of the day, roped a double to left field to bring home Prato and set up his brother with a pair in scoring position.
The younger, but not very little, Fedko brother lifted a fly ball to the warning track in right field that gave Woodworth more than enough time to tag up for the second and last run of the afternoon. From there, McGinness would give up only three more hits and did not allow a baserunner for a 11-man stretch.
Wurster was his usual self in his two innings of relief, striking out three while hanging up zeros everywhere else. Wallace tallied his second save in as many days, facing four batters and striking out two.
Saturday: Game 2
On what started as a great day for baseball, temperatures in the low 60s and a slight overcast, circumstances quickly darkened for both the weather and the third-base side dugout in a 12-5 loss.
Though it never precipitated, the Shockers ensured they made it pour all over UConn starter Colby Dunlop. Wichita State seemingly hit every ball right on the screws, capitalizing on their effort with a pair of long balls in the third. The first of the two made it a 1-0 ballgame while the second put UConn in a 5-0 hole, ending Dunlop’s day after three innings, four hits, two walks and no strikeouts.
Karl Johnson replaced Dunlop for the fourth and gave up a run on a wild pitch in his one inning of work. Angus Mayock was the next man up and shut down the Shockers for three innings, giving up just one hit and striking out three.
“Angus Mayock threw great and deserved better from our offense,” Penders said. “We just did not swing the bats well all weekend.”
It was a collaborative effort between Chase Gardner, Jimmy Wang and Kenny Haus for the remaining two frames. Though Gardner and Haus each let up a run, including the Shockers’ third home run of the game, Wang had the worst of it in his two-thirds of an inning. A single brought in a pair, before a passed ball let another runner trot his way across the plate. A rare error from Woodworth let in another two runs, leaving the Huskies in a 10-run hole.
UConn did not go down quietly, stringing together a few hits in the late going. After not scoring a run since Thad Phillips scurried home on a throwing error in the fourth, Christian Fedko brought in Toppa and Prato with a bases-loaded single. Anthony Nucerino tried to keep the rally going with an RBI single of his own, but the Huskies would not get anything beyond a ninth inning RBI single from Toppa in the ninth.
Kevin Arnold is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.