With spring finally showing itself, Easter upon us and 13th-ranked ECU in the opposing dugout, the stage is set for a big weekend for UConn baseball. This will be the first time since UConn’s season opening series with No. 4 Louisville that the team will take on a ranked opponent, and senior captain John Toppa is excited for the trip to Greenville.
“East Carolina is probably my favorite place to play,” Toppa said. “It’s just an unbelievable atmosphere. They got the little jungle out in left field. It’s a great place to play and obviously they’re a great opponent.”
When to watch
Thursday, April 18 at 6:30 p.m.
Friday, April 19 at 6:30 p.m.
Saturday, April 20 at noon
Where to watch
WHUS 91.7 FM will have the coverage for the entire series.
What to watch for
Though there has not been a lack of chalk marks on the left side of the ledger for the Huskies (24-13, 7-5 The American), the level of play has not been up to par with head coach Jim Penders’ expectations of late. Penders said his team looked tight throughout a homestand where the Huskies dropped a pair of games to Cincinnati before winning last weekend’s series over Memphis.
Most recently, the Huskies nearly had an eight-run lead completely erased in half an inning’s time in a midweek trip to UMass. The final score read 10-7, but needed Kyler Fedko to snag a bases-loaded fly ball to end the Minutemen’s five-run comeback effort, and Penders’ plans of early retirement.
“It was absolute torture,” Penders said on watching the ninth inning unfold.
“We’re not playing well enough right now to take anyone lightly,” Toppa said prior to facing UMass.
UConn will look to staff ace Mason Feole to get the series going the right way. After a tumultuous start to the season with an injury in the preseason, and not looking quite like himself in his first handful of outings, the preseason AAC pitcher of the year returned to form in last Friday’s win over Memphis. The junior southpaw struck out seven Tigers in his 6.2 innings of work, allowing just one run.
“Not getting the ball completely was something that was difficult because I’ve never really been in that situation, so to finally get that ball, be a part of what we’re doing now, that’s really special,” Feole said.
The Huskies lineup, which includes five players batting above the .300 mark, will need to stay lively for the three game set. Christian Fedko has undoubtedly been the most productive bat of late. In just his last two games, the sophomore second baseman has four hits and seven RBIs, including the game and series winning hit over Memphis and a bases-clearing double on Tuesday, raising his average 16 points in the span.
Penders and his staff will be more than glad to see number 18 back in uniform come Friday. Jacob Wallace, the Huskies’ fireball throwing closer, was forced to sit out Tuesday’s game due to his ejection from Sunday’s rubber match against Memphis. Wallace was tossed after the third base umpire saw him make the motion of tossing a coin from the dugout, referencing a borderline ball-four call in the previous at-bat.
The Pirates (26-10, 8-1 The American) sit atop the conference heading into the weekend. Fresh off a three game sweep by UCLA, the top team in the nation, ECU got a much needed win Tuesday when they beat Elon 9-4.
A pair of Jakes headline the Pirates’ rotation. Jake Angos, a left-handed junior, tends to not allow much traffic on the basepaths with a 77:17 strikeout-walk ratio. In nine starts and just over 51 innings of work, Angos has compiled a 3.16 ERA, but is somewhat susceptible to the longball with six given up on the year.
Jake Kuchmaner is the other half of ECU’s left-handed pitching tandem. The 5-foot-11 sophomore carries an impressive 2.13 ERA in almost the same amount of innings as Angos and two less starts. Kuchmaner has shown he can stick around a while as the only member of the ECU pitching staff to toss a full nine innings.
ECU’s lineup is dangerous with only one man in the regular rotation batting below the mendoza line with many more slashing above .300. No man on the roster, however, may be more dangerous than Alec Burleson.
Burleson is a rare-breed of dual-position players. The 6-foot-2 sophomore can man first base, or switch gloves and work on the mound. Outside of his .370/.563/.381 slash line, that includes a team best 50 hits, Burleson has a near 4:1 strikeout-walk ratio in 32 innings of work.
Burleson is an impressive specimen, but his first base/DH counterpart, Spencer Brickhouse, is the most complete batter in the Pirates’ lineup. With the number 42 on his back, Brickhouse carries a .358 average and on OPS of 1.191. Besides having the best name on the team, Brickhouse leads the way in home runs (9) and RBI (31).
Following the road trip, the Huskies will be back in Storrs for a pair of home, mid-week matchups with Central Connecticut and URI. But first, UConn needs to take care of the most important conference series of the season.
“We’re definitely looking forward to getting down there and getting it going with them,” Toppa said.
Kevin Arnold is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.