For the fifth straight year, head coach Jim Penders and the UConn baseball team will play in the semi-final of the American Athletic Conference Championship.
“It’s what we do in Clearwater, I have don’t have any explanation for it,” said Penders post-game “The guys rise to the occasion, very proud of our toughness today. The Huskies always play on Saturday in Clearwater, so it is good to keep that tradition going.”
No. 2 UConn (35-22, 12-12 The American) took on No. 8 Wichita State (27-30, 9-15 The American) after they took down No. 1 ECU Tuesday. The Huskies would come away with the victory after a rally in the ninth inning for the second consecutive game.
The first inning went quick as starters Tommy Barnhouse and Mason Feole allowed just one combined runner to reach. The second inning was a completely different story for both.
Freshman Pat Winkel started the scoring off with a bomb over the right field fence, giving the Huskies a 1-0 lead. It would not last long as Feole started to unravel with a one out, allowing four straight base runners to reach. With two outs, Luke Ritter capped off a 4-run inning by crushing a double off the wall, scoring Jacob Katzfey and David VanVooren.
“I knew he was probably gonna go off-speed, just by the fact it was a righty-on-lefty matchup I was anticipating changeup,” catcher Pat Winkel remarked on his home run in the second. “It was a really good pitch by him, I just sat back on it and got enough of the barrel on it I was able to put it through the wind.”
Penders stuck with his ace, despite the rocky inning and upward trending pitch count. Feole would grind through three more innings. He allowed just one more unearned run to score in the fifth, as Brady Slavens reached on a throwing error by Michael Woodworth and came around on Jack Sigrist’s double.
“Mason’s been an unbelievable competitor for us, even today when he doesn’t have his best stuff,” Penders said on Feole’s career at UConn. “He finds a way to get out of it.”
Before his RBI-double however, UConn grabbed a run in the third as John Toppa stole second after his walk and score on Woodworth’s single to right field.
Barnhouse left the game with an apparent injury after the third inning. UConn capitalized on the early exit with a 3-spot on the back of a couple singles from Paul Gozzo and Chris Winkel, as well as a David Langer walk. With the bases jacked, Toppa aimed a grounder past Mason O’Brien at first base to score three and give UConn the lead 5-4.
UConn picked up a couple more runs in the fifth as Chris Winkel singled up the middle to score Woodworth and Kyler Fedko. Woodworth was hit on the back of his helmet by a fastball from Miller Pleimann, but he continued after the coaching staff to checked on him.
UConn was unable to bring any more runs across until the ninth, but Wichita State tied it up with a run in each the sixth and seventh off of C.J. Dandeneau. Caleb Wurster shut them down in the eight to give UConn a chance to take the lead again in the ninth.
They obliged as Toppa and Anthony Prato led it off with a pair of singles. Woodworth moved them over with a well-placed sacrifice bunt down the first base line. Pat Winkel singled Toppa home to put UConn up 8-7 and Gozzo’s grounder to shortstop provided another insurance run.
Enter closer Jacob Wallace. Despite allowing a couple singles, Wallace secured his 15th save on the year by striking out VanVooren on three straight sliders.
“[Coach Joshua MacDonald] did a mound visit and said ‘listen we’re gonna throw a slider, I need you not to yank it. We may throw a couple more after that right here,’” said Penders on MacDonald’s slider-heavy approach to VanVooren. “That’s why he’s the best in the country at calling pitches, he saw something throughout the game and was going to exploit it. [VanVooren] didn’t have a chance at the slider.”
This game was marked by consistent base runners, ups and downs on defense and timely hitting. Wichita State made a couple sensational plays in the outfield throughout the game, despite having the most errors in the conference.
Mason Feole also tied former UConn pitcher Tim Cate for the program all-time lead in strikeouts with 270.
UConn will face either ECU or Wichita State again in the semi-final on Saturday at 10 a.m. The two will play at 3 p.m. Friday in an elimination game.
Mike Mavredakis is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.