Right-handed pitcher Jacob Wallace, No. 18, at the pitching mound. Image by Nicole Jain/The Daily Campus
The No. 4 UConn baseball team took on No. 5 Houston Tuesday in the first round of the American Athletic Conference Baseball Tournament. They grabbed the victory on the walk-off after a tightly contested game.
Despite being 0-for-3 on the day, Pat Winkel stroked a first pitch single to right to start the ninth. Pinch runner Thad Phillips would make it to second on a sacrifice bunt from Paul Gozzo before a walk-off single from David Langer scored him.
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Gozzo got UConn’s first hit of the day in the second inning when he smacked a double of the top of the wall in left and came around on a Kyler Fedko homer. He followed it up with a home run of his own in the seventh into the bullpens in left field to tie the game 3-3. Even with the great production in this game, when he was told to bunt Phillips over in the 9th inning, he obliged with a beauty down the first base line.
“[Gozzo] has kicked the door in, there was a little crack in the door and he’s kicked it open,” said head coach Jim Penders post-game. “He’s swinging a hot bat; he got the sacrifice bunt down there and played very well.”
UConn’s top of the lineup produced little, as the first four hitters went just 2-for-16. Most of their production in this one came from Gozzo and Kyler Fedko, who were 4-for-6 with a double, triple and two home runs between them.
“Kyler’s really centered and balanced right now, even in the at-bat when he struck out at the end against Villarreal,” said Penders. “That’s a great pitcher on the mound and it was a hell of a battle that was gonna help out the next guy. I think it helped out David Langer after he went 1-0, that takes a lot out of [a pitcher] to throw that many pitches in high leverage situations.”
UConn saw some quality pitching performances from all five who touched the mound today at Spectrum Field. Jim Penders employed the opener method Tuesday as no pitcher threw more than Jeff Kersten’s 3.1 innings. The Huskies are set up well with their pitching staff’s availability as Penders held them all to low pitch counts.
Starter Jimmy Wang went two scoreless innings with a strikeout and two walks; his pitch count was just 29 so he should be ready for the next game should UConn need him.
Kersten came in and gave UConn of one-run ball as he gave up a blast to Jared Triolo, who made a couple nice defensive plays as well, in the 4th. Kersten fired in strike after strike, throwing just eight balls his entire appearance.
“We have so much confidence in him, the players have great confidence in him,” said Penders about Kersten. “To the point where Coach [Joshua MacDonald] and I are talking mid-game and we’re like ‘how many do you think you’ll let him go and be available for Thursday?’ and it’s like ‘screw Thursday we want him for Sunday’. You have to go with a mentality here where you’re in it to win the tournament, so if we have him later in the tournament- that’s even better.”
C.J. Dandeneau was called upon to face Joe Davis with one out in the sixth inning and Davis took his first pitch into the bullpens for a home run. Dandeneau settled down to strike out seven of the next 11 batters he faced, giving up just one more run. Two of his strikeouts came at pivotal moments in the game as he sat down the No. 3 and No. 4 hitters with a runner on in the eighth. He threw the most out of any UConn pitcher with just 54 pitches out of the ‘pen, so Penders may be inclined to rest him in the next game.
Caleb Wurster and Jacob Wallace were tasked with the ninth and fought through trouble to give the offense a chance to win it in the bottom half. With the bases loaded and two outs, Wallace blew leadoff man Brad Burckel away with a 96-mph heater up in the zone. He would be credited with the win, despite getting just one out.
Houston continued their aggression on the base paths in this one as they were successful on 4-out-of-5 steal attempts. Throughout the regular season, Houston attempted just under 1.5 steals per game and are prone to run. Coming into today, catch Pat Winkel threw out 58 percent of runners. However, he nabbed just one of Houston’s five runners Tuesday.
“They always are, if they get a lead it gets worse,” Penders said on Houston’s aggressive base running. “Thankfully, they only had a lead for a very short amount of time because they’re ultra-aggressive. Even down or tied, they’re stealing third or going first to third with 2 outs.”
UConn will play against No. 8 Wichita State after they took down No. 1 ECU in a stunner Tuesday afternoon. UConn took 2-out-of-3 earlier this season against Wichita State at Dunkin’ Donuts Park. The games will be streamed on The American Digital Network on Facebook Live at 3 p.m. Thursday.
Mike Mavredakis is a campus correspondent for the Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org