It was a frustrating weekend for the UConn baseball team. It wasn’t just that the Huskies lost a weekend series for the first time this season and allowed Cincinnati to overtake them in the conference standings. It was also how they lost those games, marred by uncharacteristic sloppy defensive play and an inability to drive home runners in scoring position.
On the bright side, UConn (19-12, 5-4 The American) won’t have to wait long to right the ship. The Huskies are back in action on Tuesday as they travel to Bryant before returning to J.O. Christian Field to take on the Huskies of Northeastern on Wednesday.
Head coach Jim Penders echoed a common sentiment after each of UConn’s losses this weekend: toughen up.
“The hardest part for me today and yesterday and even on Friday is that I felt the toughness was in the other dugout, and that’s very rare for UConn baseball,” Penders said after Sunday’s 10-4 loss. “To have the tougher team in the other dugout, that’s something that’s really hard to stomach and something that’s gonna keep me awake.”
Penders also repeatedly said that he thought Cincinnati was simply the looser, more energized team. The Bearcats were the noticeably more vocal, easy-going dugout throughout the series, and seemed to commit fewer mistakes as a result.
“It just seemed like Cincinnati was having a lot more fun today,” Penders said after Friday’s defeat. “They had a loosey-goosey attitude, like ‘Okay, here’s the preseason pitcher of the year [Mason Feole] on the mound, and eh, let’s see what happens.’ Whereas we were the opposite, it was, ‘Okay, we got our ace on the mound, we gotta win today.’ You could almost feel that in the batter’s box, especially when you’re swinging really tight.”
Playing tougher while also playing looser may seem contradictory, but in a game where nerves can play a major role on the mound or at the plate, the two go hand-in-hand. The players certainly got the message.
“He’s been saying it all weekend. He said they’ve been playing fun, playing loose, and they were just the better competitor,” Pat Winkel said on his coach’s message to the team after the series. “If we take a little bit from what they’re doing, being more fun and loose, we should be good going forward.”
Bryant (20-10, 7-2 Northeast) comes in red-hot, sitting atop its conference and winners of five-straight. The Bulldogs swept Fairleigh Dickinson over the weekend, scoring at least 12 runs in each game.
Unsurprisingly then, Bryant is very much an offensive-minded squad. The team currently has a .303 team batting average and have hit 40 home runs, compared to .262 and 25 for UConn, respectively.
Redshirt sophomore Jimmy Titus, reigning Northeast Conference Player of the Week, is responsible for much of the damage, compiling a ridiculous .379/.475/.621 slash line with seven homers and 40 RBI this season.
“We need to get back into a routine that’s gonna pay dividends, and hopefully that comes on Tuesday against a really good team in Bryant who’s always ready for us,” Penders said. “They can score runs, so we’re gonna have to put up some runs, too.”
After taking on Bryant on Tuesday, the Huskies then return home on Wednesday to welcome Northeastern (16-15, 6-3 CAA). Northeastern took two of three from Hofstra over the weekend to climb back over .500.
The Huskies battled the Huskies earlier this season, with UConn taking round one, 7-4, in South Carolina. UConn is 57-14-1 all-time against Northeastern.
Both games begin at 3 p.m., the first in Rhode Island on Tuesday, followed by Storrs on Wednesday. With a talented conference foe in Memphis looming next weekend, the Huskies will try to regain some confidence in the midweek games.