Patrick Winkel didn’t show up to Dunkin Donuts Park Sunday expecting to hit the first home run of his UConn career, it just kind of happened.
He definitely didn’t expect to hit it against a lefty to the opposite field, but he did. Then it happened again, two innings later to right field, giving UConn their first lead of the game. However, the Huskies lost the series to Cincinnati.
“That’s probably my first multi-home run game since little league, so it was a good feeling,” Patrick Winkel said.
But baseball doesn’t care if you’re seeing the ball well or in a slump, if it’s your first plate appearance or your last. It doesn’t care a lick about your individual accomplishments: A missed throw from Patrick to his brother Chris allowed Cincinnati’s game-winning run to come across the plate.
It wasn’t nearly UConn’s only error of the series nor the only one of the game: Where the Huskies’ defense was sloppy at times, Cincinnati’s was sharp. Where UConn took poor at-bats, Cincinnati seemed at home at the plate.
“I think we have to look at Cincinnati, they played a lot looser and they got better results,” head coach Jim Penders said. “They made the plays when we had to and we didn’t, in all aspects.”
UConn mounted a valiant comeback in the end on Friday, but failed to overcome a disastrous third inning and dropped the first game of the series to Cincinnati, 5-4.
UConn starter Mason Feole was cruising until the third, giving up a pair of hits and nothing further. He then retired the next two batters, but the trouble started when he walked Cincinnati shortstop Joey Bellini. He then hit designated hitter Wyatt Stapp, which brought the big-swinging Joey Wiemer to the plate. He sent Feole over the hedges in left-field, making it 3-0.
UConn had a chance to respond in the bottom of the inning. David Langer and Anthony Nucerino kicked off the inning with back to back singles, and Anthony Prato ate a high fastball to load the bases with one out. Then John Toppa and Christian Fedko both struck out, ending the threat.
“[With] your three and four hitters up with one out, you gotta get something back there,” Penders said. “They punched first and we were about to counter but we couldn’t get a good swing off.”
Nucerino scored the first run for UConn of the day, leading off the fifth inning with a double; he was driven in with a Prato sacrifice fly two batters later. Nucerino ended the day 2-3.
Cincinnati added another earned run to Feole’s scoreline in the next inning. AJ Bumpass led off the inning with a double and was driven home by Cole Murphy, making it 4-1.
The Huskies bullpen picked up Feole and allowed the Huskies to stay in the game past Feole’s exit. After UConn’s ace loaded the bases in the sixth inning, redshirt freshman Karl Johnson was thrown into the fire, as Penders often does to rookie pitchers.
Johnson struck out the first three batters he faced, got Bearcat catcher Mitch Holding to pop out, then was pulled for Chase Gardner with the lefty AJ Bumpass coming up.
“I was looking for a nice ground ball so our guys can turn two and get out of there, but it’s always good when it works out with two strikeouts,” Johnson said
UConn mounted a furious comeback with two out in the bottom of the ninth, keeping things far more uncomfortable than the Bearcats would have liked. Kyler Fedko and Paul Gozzo (pinch-hitting for Patrick Winkel) both struck out, but then Cincinnati closer Korren Thompson walked Langer and Nucerino.
Woodworth and Prato delivered with their backs against the wall and a pair of RBI doubles brought the game-winning run to the plate. Toppa would record his third strikeout of the game, however, and UConn’s rally was not to be.
After a tough loss Friday due to the Huskies’ inability to take advantage with runners in scoring position, UConn still didn’t get all the good at-bats they needed with runners threatening Saturday in Dunkin Donuts Park.
Instead, it was the long ball that both opened up the scoring for the Huskies and shut the door on Cincinnati in their 5-1 win.
“It seemed like with runners in scoring position we had some of our worst at-bats, but we did enough and the home runs certainly helped,” Penders said.
Cincinnati drew first blood in the game when leadoff man Jace Mercer came around to score after a double, but their starter Evan Shawver was having trouble locating right from the start — it was only a matter of time before UConn made solid contact.
That opportunity came in the second inning with Langer up and catcher Thad Phillips on first. Langer took one of Shawver’s mislocated fastballs and put it somewhere near the scoreboard in in left field for his first career home run, putting UConn on top 2-1.
“I knew he was just trying to get something over, he wasn’t trying to get something behind me, so I was trying to be aggressive and I got a good pitch and hit it well,” Langer said.
Shawver’s shaky control cost Cincy another run in the fifth inning. Conor Moriarty started off the inning with a single and Toppa and Prato walked, then was yanked for reliever Clayton Colvin, who didn’t fare much better, walking in a run to put UConn up 3-1.
Kersten, on the other hand, was his usual steady self in his 4.2 innings of work, allowing just the earned run in the first inning while striking out four. His replacements were stellar as well: Wurster, Dandeneau and Wallace held the Bearcats hitless for the remaining 4.1 innings.
UConn’s second blast in the game came from the senior captain Toppa, a line drive again over the left-field wall, giving the Huskies some needed distance between them and Cincinnati. The Huskies added one more in the ninth via an error by the first baseman Murphy, allowing them to keep their series victory hopes alive.
Sunday’s game was a funhouse mirror of the first game of the series. The Huskies received a quality start from Jimmy Wang and actually jumped out to an early lead, but the same error-filled innings cost them in the middle of the game and they couldn’t recover, dropping the rubber match 10-4.
“I think the toughness was in the other dugout and that’s very rare for UConn baseball,” Penders said. “It’s something that’s very hard for me to stomach and something that will keep me awake.”
Winkel’s first home run of the game put UConn on top in the bottom of the second, but Cincinnati catcher Griffin Merritt would hit one of his own in the next frame, just his second hit of the year.
Wang was cruising along until the fifth inning, when he was pulled for sophomore Colby Dunlop after giving up a hit and a walk.
Dunlop then gave up a single to Scott Stapp, the first batter he faced and Nucerino tried (and failed) to throw out Mercer at home. Patrick Winkel then attempted to catch Stapp sleeping at first but threw it where even his 6-foot-5 brother couldn’t reach it. One Bearcat came in to score, tying the game up.
An overthrow by Christian Fedko at second in the next play let two more runs in, and that broke it open for Cincinnati. They wouldn’t trail again, scoring four in the sixth and two in the ninth.
The sixth inning wasn’t much of an improvement. Relieving Dunlop, Wurster had by far his worst outing of the season. He failed to record an out, gave up a double, an earned run, and allowed both baserunners he inherited from Dunlop to score.
CJ Dandeneau came in after Wurster and was able to calm things down for the Huskies, but the damage was already done.
“I thought CJ Dandeneau was a bright spot, he gave us a chance to win the ballgame, came in and kinda steadied things for a little bit, but there weren’t enough performance in the batters’ box all weekend,” Penders said.
Nucerino was another bright spot for the Huskies, recording his fourth-straight multi-hit game in the losing effort.
UConn will next take on region rivals Bryant in Smithfield, Rhode Island, this Tuesday at 3 p.m., then will return home against Northeastern on Wednesday.
“I think they’re trying, it’s not like there’s a lack of effort,” Penders said. “There’s a good attitude, it’s a good bunch of guys. I think we have to look at Cincinnati, they played a lot looser and they got better results. They made the plays when we had to and we didn’t in all aspects.
Luke Swanson is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.