Former UConn star pitcher Tim Norton was on hand for UConn’s 12-2 thrashing on Saturday afternoon against Louisville, and he knew that his old head coach Jim Penders was about to learn a lot about his current team. UConn had stolen a 3-2 victory on Friday, but they were now in danger of getting run out of the building by the No. 4 team in the country.
“[Norton said] that you’re gonna learn something about your club tomorrow, you get hit in the mouth and what are you gonna do?” Penders said. “You’re either gonna fight or you’re gonna cower in the corner, and we fought.”
UConn ended up notching their first regular-season series victory over a top five team since 2004 this weekend, knocking off No. 4 Louisville two games to one with a 8-3 win on Friday.
“We’re gonna see quality ball clubs all year, and to get off to a good start,” Penders said.
The first game of the series was a white-knuckle affair, but UConn was able to pull out the 3-2 victory on a Paul Gozzo solo home run in the top of the eighth inning during his first-ever career at bat with the Huskies.
“I was just trying to get on base, the first pitch I took what Penders calls a ‘hello hack’ and it didn’t work out well, just kind of an out-of-control swing,” Gozzo said after the game. “Second swing I kinda just tried to hit it short up the middle, and I guess I just got it pretty good.”
UConn starter Jeffrey Kersten did a stellar job shutting down the offense of the best team in the country in the first game, allowing just one unearned run and pitching to weak contact as usual.
“I thought [Kersten] was very good, he’s very poised. It’s nice to have a senior out there,” Penders said.
Both UConn and Louisville crowded the basepaths early and often, but neither could take much of an advantage. Louisville was 0-11 with runners in scoring position and UConn’s mark wasn’t much better at 2-12, but the Cardinals would get on the board first via a sacrifice fly from DH Danny Oriente scoring second baseman Lucas Dunn, who had reached on an error.
UConn would answer in the fifth inning off the bat of shortstop Anthony Prato, who opened up the scoring for UConn with a single to drive in Anthony Nucerino.
Prato would end the game 2-4, joining freshman Patrick Winkel as the only Huskies with multi-hit games. Winkel started out the game strong, going 2-3 and throwing out two would-be Louisville base-stealers, but he would leave the game with an injured hamstring beating out an infield single to first.
The Huskies took the 2-1 lead in the following frame with second baseman Christian Fedko’s first of (hopefully) many doubles this year. He was moved to third by the aforementioned infield hit from Patrick Winkel, and Conor Moriarty drove him home with a near-homer to the left-center gap that was saved by a leaping grab from Louisville outfielder Drew Campbell.
Chase Gardner struggled somewhat in his first appearance this year as a newborn reliever, walking in the equalizing run and only recording one out in the bottom of the seventh, but then Penders sent for Jake Wallace and the game was all but over. The flamethrower pitched three hitless innings and struck out three Cardinals to earn the save after Gozzo’s bomb.
UConn’s victory in the season opener must have really pissed the Cardinals off, because they unloaded on UConn with 10 runs in the first three innings to beat the Huskies 12-2.
Sophomore Colby Dunlop started the game but didn’t slide into the Saturday slot quite as easily as Kersten did into Feole’s normal position, giving up nine earned runs off of eight hits in 2.2 innings.
Louisville’s All-American first baseman Logan Wyatt started off the scoring fest in the first inning with a two-RBI triple on the first pitch he saw, and he would reach base all five times he came to the plate.
Louisville did the majority of their damage in innings two and three, as a three-run home run by DH Zach Britton put the Cardinals up six, then back-to-back home runs from Lucas Dunn and Tyler Fitzgerald extended the lead to nine.
UConn’s runs came courtesy of a passed ball scoring Prato in the second, then a Prato double scored Woodworth in the fifth.
One of the few positives from the night for the Huskies came in the form of redshirt sophomore Jimmy Wang’s debut in relief. He fired 2.2 innings of scoreless ball, allowing just one hit and striking out three.
This game featured the UConn debut of freshmen Will Lucas and Kyler Fedko, but neither registered a hit.
Two other pitchers also made their UConn debuts in mop-up duty: Junior college transfer Kenny Haus and redshirt freshman Angus Mayock.
Grand Slam for @Cfed377 ! @UConnBSB beats Louisville 8-3 in Lakeland, Florida #HookC #RoadtoOmaha pic.twitter.com/0PsPSKSpBI
— John Fedko (@FedkoZone) February 17, 2019
After a demoralizing loss on Saturday, UConn put together a balanced effort to win the game and the series in the rubber match on Sunday by a score of 8-2.
Louisville was never really out of the game thanks to their incredibly potent lineup, but UConn certainly made it hard for them in the second inning.
After giving up the first run in the opening frame thanks to a Wyatt single (who else, really), the Huskies responded with a four-run third inning courtesy of Fedko, who drove in Woodworth, Prato and Toppa with a moonshot grand slam to left field. This put UConn up 4-1, and they would not look back.
Junior Joe Simeone got the start for UConn, pitching a solid three innings, allowing two earned runs and striking out three. Veteran CJ Dandeneau gave the Huskies 2.2 quality innings of relief, striking out three of his own while allowing just three hits and no earned runs while Jake Wallace was also at the top of his game, earning the save facing the meat of Louisville’s lineup and not allowing a single man to reach.
Catcher Thad Phillips got the start behind the plate for the injured Patrick Winkel, and he would make the most of it, tacking on to UConn’s lead with an RBI single in the next inning. He was flawless on the defensive side too, making several difficult stops, as well as throwing out the speedy Campbell.
Toppa had his usual great day behind the plate, going 2-4 with two singles, one of which plated Phillips to stretch the lead out to 6-3 after Wyatt had hit a solo home run in the third and scored in the fifth off an RBI single from Campbell.
Then came Chris Winkel’s turn to break out of his tough stretch to start the season. The junior captain was 0-8 coming into Sunday, but would put that all behind him by demolishing a pitch over everything in right field in the eighth inning, a two-run home run that would close the door on the Cardinals.
UConn will have the week to rest up and take care of some pitching sloppiness showcased during the weekend but will be right back at it this Friday as they travel to South Carolina taking on the College of Charleston.
Luke Swanson is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.