Mother Nature has not been kind to the UConn baseball team this season. Wednesday’s game against Bryant looked like it would be different: sunshine, (relatively) dry ground, high 40s. Instead, it was darkness, not rain or snow, that got in the way, and the Huskies walked away with a 9-9 tie in 10 innings—but not before displaying some impressive resiliency.
UConn (17-10-1, 3-3 the American) trailed by three or more runs twice, coming back to tie the game both times. It was a true team effort, with six different players recording an RBI, none bigger than Zac Susi’s game-tying three-run double in the eighth.
On the other hand, it was far from a pretty showing from the Huskies. They will kick themselves not only for stranding a ton of runners on base, but also for some sloppy fielding, recording four errors in the game.
“It was just an ugly game,” left fielder John Toppa, said. “The pitchers did a good enough job to keep us in the game, but we kicked the ball around and didn’t get the big hit when we needed to.”
Making his first career start for UConn, Joe Simeone pitched in and out of trouble in the first inning against Bryant (14-14-1, 6-4 NEC). The freshman surrendered two hits and a walk to load the bases with one out. But he settled down from there, generating a pop-up in shallow center, not deep enough to tag on, before striking out the final batter to end the inning.
The Huskies responded in similar fashion in the bottom of the first, loading the bases with no outs, including consecutive singles from John Toppa and Anthony Prato. However, Bryant starter Matt Stansky—also a freshman—retired the next three in order, helped by a nice running grab from his left fielder. It was a prime opportunity to score, and UConn would kick themselves for not taking advantage.
“We hit the fastball pretty well, but the second that runners got in scoring position, we’re seeing [breaking balls,] it’s no secret,” head coach Jim Penders said. “And even into the ninth inning, we were swinging over breaking balls like we’re surprised by it. That was the most frustrating thing offensively.”
The Bulldogs jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the third. With two on, Bryant’s Shane Kelly blasted a three-run homer to left, knocking Simeone out of the game. Two batters later, Tyler Panno drove in another on a liner down the third-base line.
In the bottom of the third, UConn got a couple back on a clutch two-run single from Thad Phillips. For the second time in the game, Phillips stepped into the box with the bases jacked and one out. The first time, he popped out in foul territory. But this time, he didn’t waste it, lacing a line drive to left, scoring two, and cutting the deficit to 4-2.
The Huskies then got within one in the fourth, making it 4-3. After chasing Stansky, Toppa delivered his third hit of the afternoon, this one a rope just over the first baseman’s outstretched glove, for his 17th RBI of the season.
The teams traded blows in the fifth, with Bryant pushing the lead back to two in top half of the frame off UConn’s Jeff Kersten. In the bottom half of the inning, the Huskies finally tied it up at 5-5, thanks to RBI base hits from Troy Stefanski and Chris Winkel.
Yet just as the Huskies pulled even, a disastrous top of the sixth proved costly. First, a hard-hit grounder got past first baseman Winkel after a lazy attempt to field it. Then, a poor throw from second baseman Christian Fedko pulled Winkel off the bag, allowing another runner to reach. With two aboard, Susi fielded an excellent bunt down the third-baseline, hesitated, and threw it away over first base, allowing two Bryant baserunners to score. A couple of hits later, UConn found itself staring at an 8-5 deficit.
“That sixth inning, after we tie the game, and it’s tied for maybe 30 seconds,” Penders said, “then we just give it right back with three abysmal baseball plays in a row.”
An Isaac Feldstein RBI made it 8-6, but the Bulldogs added another to make it 9-6. The resilient Huskies just wouldn’t go away though, and in the bottom of the eighth, it was Susi coming through and redeeming his earlier error. With bases loaded and no outs (again), Susi squared one up and split the gap in left, clearing the bases to tie it at 9-9.
After a quiet ninth, UConn headed to extras for the second time this week. However, as she has done repeatedly this season, Mother Nature intervened. After a scoreless tenth, the game was called due to darkness, resulting in a 9-9 tie.
It’s a win that the Huskies would’ve liked to—and really should’ve—picked up, especially with the toughest opponent in the conference up next at Wichita State this weekend.
“It’s disappointing that we couldn’t take the ballgame today and get on the road with a good taste in our mouths,” Penders said. “Definitely not a good taste in our mouths heading to Wichita right now.”