In its last 12 games, the UConn baseball team has a grand total of two losses. Now the Huskies, ranked No. 24 nationally, travel to Cincinnati for a critical three-game weekend series against conference foe Bearcats, looking to shoot up the American Athletic Conference standings.
The recent hot stretch from UConn has brought its season record to 20-11-1, even more impressive given that the team has only played a conference-low six games at home. The Huskies are 5-4 against conference opponents, which puts them at fifth place in the standings. Sitting only two games back from the top of the standings, a sweep against Cincinnati could theoretically raise UConn to the top spot.
The Bearcats (18-17) are tied for first in the American standings at 7-5, but five of those wins have come against bottom-four teams in the conference. It’s no surprise Cincinnati is ranked 154 in RPI, compared to UConn’s ranking of 9th in the country.
Shortstop Manny Rodriguez is Cincinnati’s most dangerous hitter, leading the team in nearly every offensive category. Rodriguez is slashing .319/.387/.622 with eight homers and 29 RBI. He has also committed a team-high 13 errors, but his bat alone makes him a much-needed starter on an otherwise subpar offensive team (second-lowest combined batting average in the conference).
On the mound, Cincy’s JT Perez has been excellent so far this season, tallying a 3-3 record with a 2.84 ERA. Out of the pen, Jarod Yoakam has made a team-high 17 appearances, recording an impressive 2.11 ERA and five wins in the process. It’s a staff that doesn’t strike out many batters (only Tulane has less), but also doesn’t allow many baserunners.
The Huskies are coming off a dominant 14-7 win over UMass Lowell on Wednesday, and have now scored six or more runs in eight straight games.
“The guys swung the bats well,” head coach Jim Penders said after the game. “We had a little breathing room and we haven’t had that all year. There’s not too many games where we’re running away.”
UConn is also starting to get back to full strength after numerous injuries to the roster, especially the pitching staff. Relievers Dan Rajkowski, Avery Santos and CJ Dandeneau have all returned from injury in the past week. The Huskies also hope to get starter Chase Gardner and leftfielder John Toppa back this weekend, though Gardner seems doubtful. Ace Tim Cate remains unable to play as well.
“We’re going to have to piece it together,” Penders said. “It’s not going to be formulaic or pretty. We’re going to have to be unconventional because it’s unconventional circumstances.”
Penders and his staff will try to hit the right buttons and come away with a crucial series win. The series begins on Friday at 6 p.m., with afternoon games on Saturday and Sunday, all of which will be played at Cincinnati’s Marge Schott Stadium.