HARTFORD—In a pivotal series against the top ballclub in the American Athletic Conference, the UConn baseball team dropped a doubleheader to Houston at Dunkin’ Donuts Park, with a failed comeback bid in game 1, 6-5, and a blowout in the nightcap, 10-1.
“We didn’t make enough plays in the outfield, we didn’t make enough plays in the infield, we didn’t make enough pitches where we had to, and we didn’t get the big hit that we needed to,” head coach Jim Penders said, “We just gotta turn the page.”
Game 1 was started by southpaw Mason Feole. He had to work through a decent amount of trouble—three leadoff walks and a leadoff double—but he finished with a final line of 6.2 IP, 5 H, 4R, 3 ER, 3 BB and 4K. Though it wasn’t his best outing—Penders said he was sick the day of the game— it kept the Huskies in the game.
“It was brave that he took the mound, he was really sick, he had trouble breathing at times, and just warriored that game somehow,” Penders said of his starter. “His stuff wasn’t high end, but it was certainly good enough to win, and he shouldn’t have any regrets.”
Jared Triolo, the Cougars’ best player with an impressive .354/.421/.469 line, got things started for Houston with a solo shot to left field in the top of the first. UConn responded in the bottom of the first with three hard-hit balls, but two great plays from the Houston defense kept them off the board.
It was a pitcher’s duel for the next few innings. UConn managed to get on the board after two straight singles to open up the bottom of the fourth led to a Michael Woodworth sac fly, but it was a relatively quiet day for the UConn bats.
Feole faced trouble in the top of the sixth, when Connor Hollis led off the inning with a double off the wall and the heart of the Houston order coming up. In a game where every runner could make the difference, Feole buckled down and retired the next three Cougars he faced—including Triolo—but not without help from his defense.
Woodworth handled a laser from Triolo to prevent Hollis from scoring, and the rest was all Feole, getting cleanup hitter Joe Davis to pop out.
Anthony Prato led off the bottom of the sixth with a single but was caught stealing to kill the momentum, but Isaac Feldstein picked up his teammate with a towering solo shot to put the Huskies up 2-1 at the end of six.
The seventh inning proved to be one leadoff walk too many, however. After getting two strikes on Tyler Bielamowicz and potentially not getting a strike call he wanted, Feole walked him for his third leadoff walk of the game. Lael Lockhart made him pay, taking advantage of the short porch at Dunkin’ Donuts Park and giving Houston a 3-2 lead.
“[Feole] gave a valiant effort tonight, he knows how thin we are and he’s taken the ball and under those circumstances, he didn’t say a word about it, but he was hurting,” Penders said. “The fact that he wants the ball and was leading that way means the world to the coaching staff and his teammates.”
After Feole departed with 103 pitches to his name, reliever CJ Dandeneau hurled two wild pitches that allowed the Cougars to tack on another run, capping off a three-run top of the seventh to take a 4-2 lead.
But UConn wasn’t done. After a leadoff single from Woodworth, Christian Fedko hit a long RBI double to center and advanced to third on an error. Conor Moriarty singled to bring Fedko in with the tying run.
And Houston responded. After getting the first two out, Dandeneau let up a single, threw a wild pitch, hit a batter and gave up a two-RBI double to give the lead right back to the Cougars. UConn tacked on another run in the bottom of the ninth and had runners on second and third with two outs, but a Prato popup ended the Huskies’ comeback bid.
A total of 3,356 fans showed up to watch the second game of the doubleheader, a record attendance for the Huskies at Dunkin’ Donuts Park, but UConn fell again to Houston by a score of 10-1.
With the momentum swinging wildly in Houston’s favor from the first game, the Cougars took advantage of starting pitcher Jeff Kersten right off the jump.
“With a four pitch walk to start the second game, we kind of handed them some momentum too,” Penders said. “They wound up boatracing us and we just couldn’t get back in it.”
Kersten gave up a walk to leadoff man Hollis, a hard-hit out to Padgett, and then a single Houston’s jack of all trades Triolo. Next, Davis and Lockhart singled, putting Houston up 2-0 just like that.
The Cougars would tack on two more in the top of the third. Triolo reached for the sixth time that day, and the big man Davis sent one high and deep to the opposite field, extending their lead to four.
Kersten was pulled for reliever Trevor Holmes after going 4.2 innings, giving up ten hits and six runs. The senior Holmes had a much better outing all things considered, giving the Huskies 2.1 innings of work, allowing just one hit and one run while striking out four, including a seventh inning where he struck out the side.
UConn’s pitching staff just couldn’t get one past the big slugger Davis, and he ended up getting a quarter of his home runs on the year in total Friday night, with a solo shot in the sixth. Davis ended up 4-5 on the night with four RBI, with two long doubles into center to go with his two homers.
“We’re really thin with our pitching, and we have to patch it together somehow and some way” Penders said. “Some other guys have to get outs, and it just didn’t work for us.”
UConn’s only signs of life in game two came in the third inning from Conor Moriarty. The lockdown third baseman is 7-14 in his last four games, and continued his hot hitting by smacking a homer that nearly hit the left field video board that marked the Huskies’ only run of the night.
Otherwise, Houston starting pitcher Aaron Fletcher had the Huskies in the cobra clutch all game, going seven innings, striking out five and allowing just one run off the Moriarty homer.
The Huskies will hope to get something out of this weekend on Sunday, when they take on the Cougars again 11 a.m., this time at J.O. Christian Field. Junior Chase Gardner is the probably starter for the Huskies, who holds a 3.82 ERA and is 3-2 in 11 appearances.
Luke Swanson is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.