If you’re a reliever, you have to be prepared to come into the game at the worst possible time and clean up someone else’s mess. It’s in the job description. That’s exactly what Caleb Wurster faced when he entered the game in UConn’s 2-1 win against Rhode Island on Wednesday.
“In these situations, my mindset is always just throw strikes, trust myself, trust my pitches,” Wurster said. “I know that if I execute my pitches, I have full faith that I can get the job done.”
Fellow freshman Karl Johnson had left the bases loaded with nobody out, and in came Wurster to the smooth sounds of “Son of a Preacher Man” by Dusty Springfield. With one pitch, he got Rhody second baseman Josh Brodeur to ground right back to the mound, turning a 1-2-3 in the highest-leverage moment of the game.
This was one of several times the redshirt freshman has gotten the Huskies out of a jam this year.
“He’s been such a nice, pleasant surprise,” head coach Jim Penders said. “He’s really emerged as a guy we completely trust, and the guys love seeing him on the mound.”
The game only got to that point because, even after a productive few days of practice and what Penders called their “best batting practice in a while” before the game, the Huskies still went just 2-13 with runners in scoring position.
“We’re throwing our numbers in a hat at this point, hopefully it changes quickly and guys can stay a little looser with runners in scoring position,” Penders said. “I thought our swings looked fine until guys got to second base.”
With their bats still in a funk, UConn had to turn to their pitching staff to carry them home. It was a “throw day” for many of the UConn pitchers, as Penders and pitching coach Josh MacDonald tried to spread out the load and get many different arms in the game.
Colby Dunlop started, allowing the only run of the game, a leadoff single to the speedy Austin White. The center fielder moved to third off a sacrifice bunt, then star first baseman Jason Vargas drove him in with another single. Dunlop settled in after, though, sitting down the next five Rhodies in order.
The next five UConn pitchers combined for seven shutout innings, striking out four while walking just two. Joe Simeone, Jeff Kersten, Karl Johnson and Jacob Wallace pitched an inning each, while Wurster threw a career-high three frames.
“I thought all the pitchers did a solid job, and I thought the defense was really good as a whole,” Penders said.
Senior captain John Toppa had the best day of any Husky at the plate, hitting 2-for-4 from the leadoff spot. He scored both UConn runs on the day; Anthony Prato drove him in with an RBI single in the first inning and Michael Woodworth did the same with a sacrifice fly in the third.
Kyler Fedko continued his hot streak, going 2-for-4 with a double and a single. The younger Fedko is 6-for-16 over the past five games.
UConn hasn’t let their midweek games sink them in RPI so far this year, with their sole stumble coming against Fairfield on April 2. This will be key at the end of the year, when wins and losses are tallied up for seeding in the NCAA tournament.
“At the end of the year you don’t want to be looking back and see good weekend series, but see these midweeks kinda go to crap,” Wurster said. “Wins against these guys might not seem so huge in the moment, but you look at the end of the year and see all the wins add up.”
Luke Swanson is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.