In a weekend series that was messy, cold and sometimes disorienting, UConn ended up taking two games from visiting University of Central Florida.
This weekend’s schedule was constantly in flux. The two teams were originally scheduled to play on Friday, but an April snowstorm forced the team to schedule two games on Saturday. Any hopes of that doubleheader were dashed after the first game on Saturday went long, prompting a rare 8:30 a.m. start time on Sunday morning before finishing the series in the afternoon.
Mason Feole took the bump first for the Huskies on a frigid Saturday afternoon. Feole struggled with his control to begin the game, sprinkling the base paths with runners and allowing two earned runs but eventually found his groove.
According to head coach Jim Penders, the coaching staff has come to expect this from Feole and trust him to figure it out.
“He has a tendency in the first couple innings-he kind of feels things out and often times those are his worst innings,” said Penders “Once he gets all those moving parts in sync, because there’s a lot of moving parts in his delivery, he’s usually pretty good and there’s no one that competes harder than him.”
The Huskies took back control of the game in an offensive explosion that started in the bottom of the second inning. UConn collected eight runs off RBI’s from six different Huskies. It looked like Troy Stefanski put the knights to bed when he crushed a homer over the right field fence to make it 8-4 in the sixth inning.
However, UConn’s lead unraveled in the ninth inning. Jacob Wallace had given the Huskies two great innings out of the pen but lost control in the game’s final frame, giving up three hits and hitting a batter that resulted in two runs. An error by Stefanski in center didn’t help matters either. The Huskies inserted P.J. Poulin in for Wallace, but the closer didn’t fare any better. Poulin hit a batter with the bases loaded to bring in one run and threw a pitch to the backstop to bring in the tying score.
The Knights completed the comeback after scoring two runs in the top of the ninth. The Huskies finished the game with three errors and 10 walks, a sloppy performance that wasn’t nearly good enough in Pender’s eyes.
“If they earn it, you can still kind of sleep at night,” Penders said. “The hard part is when you give them so much for free.”
Because the marathon affair didn’t leave enough daylight for a second game, the Huskies would have to wait until the morning to regroup.
The thermometer only read 25 degrees to start Sunday morning’s abbreviated seven-inning game, but UConn’s bats were hot. Isaac Feldstein and Christian Fedko both drove in runs in the first inning. They also got some help from seven UCF errors, the most costly of which was a ground ball that went through the first basemen’s legs to bring in two UConn runs and give the Huskies a 5-2 lead with two innings to play. Zac Susi put the finishing on touches on the 6-2 win with an RBI single in the sixth.
Starter Chase Gardner also gave a phenomenal performance. The left-hander chewed up 6.2 innings of work and only left one batter for Poulin to take care of to finish the game.
Penders revealed after the game that Gardner had spent the majority of the game battling through a blister on his throwing hand.
“Most pitchers, you’re going to know they have the sniffles but not Chase,” Penders said.
After a 40-minute break, both teams were back on the field again. Colby Dunlop took the hill for his first career start. The freshman kept the scoreboard empty but was pulled in the second inning for Jeff Kersten.
The Huskies found themselves trailing 3-2 in the bottom of the sixth but Stefanski delivered a single up the middle in a crucial two-out at bat to tie the ballgame. UCF regained the lead on a sacrifice-bunt from shortstop Brandon Hernandez. Once again Stefanski was the one to answer. With Feldstein at second the centerfielder hit a grounder to short that Hernandez wasn’t able to get to first base in time to prevent the run from scoring.
Mike Woodworth put the Huskies out in front, 6-4, with a two-run single to left field in the eighth inning. For the third time in two days, the Huskies called on Poulin to close the door. The lefthander’s third appearance was much like his first as he surrendered two runs to the Knights when Rylan Thomas singled into centerfield.
Miraculously, the Huskies were able to walk off in the ninth inning despite not putting the ball in play. Anthony Prato, Zac Susi and Anthony Nucerino all drew walks before Thad Phillips stepped to the plate. On the first pitch, Garrett Westberg sent the ball to the backstop for the unconventional walk off win for the Huskies.
It was a bizarre ending to a weekend full of bizarre scheduling, unfriendly weather and huge momentum swings.
Bryan Lambert is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.