Riding the wave of an opening series win over No. 4 Louisville, the Huskies came crashing back to reality in their weekend series in Charleston, South Carolina.
UConn fought its way to 7-4 victory to open the series, but starting pitching woes and sloppy defensive play helped the College of Charleston Cougars (6-1) take games two and three from the Huskies (3-3).
Head coach Jim Penders said his team was “fortunate” to walk away winners on Friday night.
“Our energy wasn’t where it needed to be tonight. We were fortunate to come away with a ‘W’,” Penders said. “Our concentration wavered at times. We gotta be better than that.”
An interesting statement from the coach of a winning ball club, UConn committed three errors in game one, allowing the Cougars hang around longer than ideal.
Still without ace pitcher Mason Feole, Jeff Kersten got the nod Friday night. The junior right hander gave up three runs, struck out four (including sitting down 11 in-a-row) en route to his first win of the season.
Paul Gozzo, starting for the still-injured Pat Winkel, threw out the first Charleston baserunner of the night before the wind threw the Huskies for a spin. A pair of hits to left field caused some trouble for senior John Toppa and ended in a triple and a double, giving the Cougars a one run lead in the first.
Christian Fedko evened things up for UConn in his first turn at the plate in the second. After a launching a grand slam in the rubber game against Louisville, the sophomore second baseman drilled a solo shot to left field, tying the game at one and doubling his freshman season total in long balls.
The Huskies did most of their damage in the third inning, tabbing the Cougars for four runs. A walk from Toppa with the bases loaded — followed by a throwing error by the right fielder — allowed two base runners to cross before Chris Winkel plated a pair on a single to the opposite field.
Going the other way was a theme Friday night with seven of UConn’s 11 hits going to the opposite field, a result of quality two-strike hitting. Winkel finished the night with three hits, a total matched by shortstop Anthony Prato in game one.
Winkel, a junior tri-captain, described the dugout vibe as “weird” following some fielding mistakes.
“We were up three and we were acting like we were down three,” Winkel said. ”So I think we just had to get out of our own heads and realize we were winning the game.”
The first baseman, in-tandem with Gozzo, lifted the Huskies on a heads up play to end a error-filled seventh. After C.J Dandeneau struck-out a batter with a curveball in the dirt, Gozzo fired the ball down to Winkel to pick off the runner and end the inning.
Though UConn plated a run in the top of the ninth, Penders turned to closer Jake Wallace for the bottom half and the game not yet out of reach for Charleston. Dubbed “The Finisher” postgame by Winkel, Wallace faced four batters in his third save on the young season. The junior extended his scoreless innings streak to 4.2 innings and has not yet allowed a hit.
“We’ve got to play better if we expect to win a series against a good ballclub like that.”
That was what Penders had to say after game one. Going out for the series win Saturday afternoon, the Huskies needed to play a cleaner game fundamentally in order to come away with a series win.
Things looked good early. Mike “Woody” Woodworth, who finished the day with three hits, lead off with a double. Toppa followed up with his first home run of the season, marking the first time thus far the Huskies have scored first in a game.
That would be the end of UConn’s scoring for the day. Six runs in three innings gave Charleston a permanent lead before tacking on one more in the eighth.
Colby Dunlop drops to 0-2 on the year after giving up three earned runs on six hits, in just 3 innings of work. Redshirt freshman Angus Mayock struggled in his UConn debut. Mayock gave up three earned runs on three hits and three walks before Penders made a change with just one out in the inning.
“Bright side? The last two pitchers pitched with no fear,” Penders said following the 7-2 loss. “Jimmy Wang and Avery Santos looked really good. And that’s the positive we can take from the guys on the mound today.”
Santos and Wang, each appearing for the second time this season, combined for 4.2 quality innings Saturday. Santos gave up three hits but struck out two and did not allow a run to cross in the nine batters he faced. Wang, a redshirt freshman, was tabbed for a run and a pair of hits but struck out two in his effort to minimize the damage.
Joe Simeone struck out six batters, but the struggles continued for UConn starting pitching in the rubber match with Charleston. The sophomore right hander gave up seven hits and four runs in three and a third innings of work, leaving the third starter spot open while Feole recovers.
“There’s some audition spots open,” Penders said following the loss in Game 2. “I’ve seen some pretty good performances out of the bullpen. Overall, I think our bullpen grade would be a B right now. Our starting grade is not near that. We’re C+, at best, on the mound from the starter’s perspective.”
The Huskies battled after falling behind in the early going. Woodworth’s RBI on a fielder’s choice got things going before Toppa knocked in a runner on a sacrifice fly, bringing UConn within a run.
The Cougars’ pitching staff showed its flaws in the fourth. UConn worked in the tying run after three-consecutive walks (2 BB, 1 HBP) ended with a Michael Chiovitti RBI base-on-balls. Chiovitti made his first start of the season in RF, the third player to start at that position in 2019 (Anthony Nucerino, Kyler Fedko).
Woodworth gave UConn its only lead of the game on a two-run single to left field. Woodworth collected three hits in the losing effort, his second-straight such game.
Chase Gardner came in for relief, but struggled in his one inning on the mound. A walk and two hits lead to a pair of earned runs, leaving the senior southpaw on tab for the loss.
Dandeneau provided some stability on the mound, throwing a career-high 3.2 innings in relief. THe redshirt junior struck out six, giving up a lone run on four hits.
UConn tacked on another run in the seventh to pull within one, and even threatened with a ninth-inning rally. Woodworth followed up his third hit of the afternoon with his third stolen base of the season, giving UConn a runner in scoring position with just one out. The effort was to no avail, as the Cougars finished the series win with a 7-6 final in game three.
The Huskies will look to bounce back next weekend in Conway, South Carolina. UConn will take on Northeastern, Indiana, Coastal Carolina and Illinois over three days.
Luke Swanson is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.