UConn was in deep trouble in the bottom of the seventh Saturday. UCF had already won the Friday game and were threatening to take command of the second. The score was 1-1 with no outs, runners on second and third. Head coach Jim Penders signaled for lefty freshman Caleb Wurster to come out of the bullpen with the series in the balance.
Wurster struck out two in a row, got the third batter to ground out and retired three in the next inning. The Huskies (17-9, 4-2 The American) would win the game 2-1 four innings later, and the series the next day.
“It was an unbelievable emotional lift,” Penders said. “I mean, second and third and nobody out, he comes in and just shoves. He’s throwing fastballs by guys, moving all over the place, he got some really bad swings.”
It was a pivotal point in the weekend, UConn’s second conference series win in two weeks.
UConn fell in the first game of the series 2-1, their first Friday loss of the year. The Huskies were sunk by a career performance from UCF (17-11, 1-5 The American) starter Grant Schuermann, who pitched a complete game, allowing just four hits, one walk and one earned run.
The bespectacled lefty confounded UConn hitters all night — all but one. Kyler Fedko was the only real threat for the Huskies, the first home run of his UConn career coming in the fifth inning, a line drive into the wind coming from left field.
— John Fedko (@FedkoZone) March 29, 2019
Mason Feole was no slouch on the mound either, pitching 7.1 innings, striking out seven and allowing just four hits. His only mistake for seven innings came in the opening frame, as leadoff man Alejo sent an RBI double down the left-field line, then scored from third with two outs from a wild pitch.
UCF was bound and determined to get Feole off his game all night, or at least it seemed like it. While UConn’s ace was trying to warm up in the middle of the first, UCF’s mascot was playing around on the mound with some sort of voodoo doll, visibly annoying the lefty.
Then, in the fourth inning, hits from Wingo and Hernandez and a Torres walk loaded the bases. Wingo started dancing around third base, taking a lead and the UCF bench started jawing at Feole. UConn’s starter picked him off, and it seemed to fire the team up.
Feole retired the next 10 Knights, but tired in the eighth after throwing 90-plus pitches. An Alejo single and an Osik walk led Penders to call to the bullpen. CJ Dandeneau gave up an RBI single to UCF’s all-conference second baseman Mika, and that was all the Knights needed to take game one 2-1.
Before Wurster turned the tide Saturday, Jeff Kersten started out the day with his usual steady performance, grinding into the fifth inning allowing just one run in the 3-1 victory, unearned as Hernandez came around to score after reaching on an error from third baseman David Langer.
The Huskies’ lineup gave Kersten minimal support, their only run in regulation coming in the second inning. Christian Fedko one-hopped the fence for his eighth double of the year, Chris Winkel moved him to third with a single up the middle, then Kyler Fedko scored his brother with an RBI grounder making it 1-1.
Still tied in the bottom of the ninth, UConn pulled Wurster and went to their lights-out closer Jacob Wallace. He did his thing, retiring nine out of 10 batters he faced and struck out six through three innings.
UConn’s lineup gave Wallace all the run support he needed, with two runs in the top of the 11th. The Huskies loaded the bases, and Woodworth headed home on a wild pitch. Then, Chris Winkel sent John Toppa home with a sacrifice fly to complete the 3-1 victory.
This gave UConn all the momentum they needed heading into Sunday.
After their gritty win on day two of the series, UConn’s bats finally came alive Sunday to win their fifth series of the year in resounding fashion. Six different Huskies had multi-hit games, and every hitter reached base at least once in the 10-0 thrashing that sent UConn into second place in the American.
It was apparent right from the start that this game would be different than the two preceding pitcher’s duels. UConn opened up the scoring early, as Toppa doubled with two outs, then Chris Winkel drove him in for his team-leading 24th RBI of the year.
UConn tacked on two more in the second by virtue of an Anthony Nucerino RBI groundout and a Michael Woodworth single.
Then came the third inning, and the big boppers came out to play. Chris Winkel led off with another single, Kyler Fedko played pinball with the right-centerfield wall for a double, then Thad Phillips launched his third home run over the year to make it 6-0. Langer and Nucerino were then retired, but the top of the lineup would add on even more. Woodworth notched his second single of the game, then shortstop Anthony Prato his his first home run of the year to make it 8-0.
Prato would hit an RBI single in the sixth inning and Nucerino would triple to score Langer. 10-0 after seven innings on a Sunday allowed everyone to go home early, the Huskies a little happier than most after securing an essential series victory.
Jimmy Wang had a solid outing for the third start of his college career, going five innings and only giving up three hits. He’s had a good start to his college career, with a 1.3 K/BB ratio and a 4.34 ERA.
UConn baseball will be in action next Tuesday and Wednesday in a pair of midweek games against Fairfield University and UMass Lowell.
Luke Swanson is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.