In their first appearance in the three-game MLB4 tournament, the UConn baseball team struggled at the plate over the weekend but didn’t leave Arizona empty-handed as they stole a win from No. 8 Michigan on Sunday.
“I thought the pitchers overall were good, we’ve gotta get more than five hits in two days,” head coach Jim Penders said post-game Saturday following the 6-1 loss to Vanderbilt. “I think we struck out, what,  times in the first two games, that’s way too much. We’ve got to get the ball in play and our middle of the order guys have to hit.”
The UConn (1-2) offense was stymied by Cal Poly and No. 1 Vanderbilt’s pitching staff in the first two games, collecting just five hits and one run in the first two contests. Sunday is when they turned things around, however, grabbing seven runs on nine hits in a huge win over Michigan.
In their first game of the year, UConn left their bats back in Storrs. Other than a Kyler Fedko single in the first and a Ben Maycock single in the fifth, the Huskies drummed up very little noise in their opener. Cal Poly’s pitching staff retired the last 13 batters they faced, striking out in five of those plate appearances.
Overall the Huskies struck out 12 times on the day, and they would finish the weekend having struck out 34 times in three games.
UConn was faced with a tall task in game two, as they took on No. 1 Vanderbilt and starter Kumar Rocker. Last season, in his freshman campaign, Rocker threw a 19-strikeout no-hitter against Duke in the Super Regionals.
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The result, a 6 inning, 9-strikeout performance from the potential No. 1 draft pick in the 2021 MLB draft. He gave up just one run in the second inning, after walking third baseman Conor Moriarty with the bases loaded. It was UConn’s opportunity to break the game open, but Rocker shut it down with a strikeout and a flyout to end the inning.
“There’s your opportunity, you’re not going to get too many against one of the best programs in the country, and defending national champs,” Penders said post-game Saturday. “You have an opportunity like that where you have the bases loaded and nobody out, you have to cash in with more than one. I’d have loved to have seen a single from anybody or hard contact there.”
The Vanderbilt bats were quieted by starter Colby Dunlop until the fifth inning, when catcher CJ Rodriguez flied to right and drove in Cooper Davis from third base. Dunlop was lifted from the game after five, with a solid final line of six hits allowed, four strikeouts, one walk and one earned in 79 pitches.
“Colby was a really good bright spot, he took a comebacker and jammed his right finger,” Penders said post-game Saturday. “We thought it was on his glove hand and it was on his throwing hand, and he didn’t say a word, he was fine…He was enjoying competing tonight.”
The sixth is when things got away from UConn, as reliever Erik Stock allowed four runs, three earned, in just .1 innings pitched. Rodriguez came up with the bases loaded and one out in the sixth before roping a single to the wall in left, driving in two. He finished the day with four hits and three RBIs.
“When we made mistakes, Vanderbilt cashed in every time,” Penders said post-game Saturday.
The score finished 6-1 Saturday, after reliever Max Nielson gave up an unearned run in the ninth.
After two five-run losses to start the weekend, UConn’s bats finally arrived in Arizona as they picked up a convincing 7-1 win over No. 8 Michigan Sunday afternoon. Coming into the day, Michigan had taken it to Cal Poly, Vanderbilt and No. 9 Arizona State.
No doubt about that one… 💥
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UConn took a first inning lead on a Christian Fedko single to center, which was answered by a Michigan run in the fourth. UConn grabbed the lead right back on a Maycock dinger to right field off of pitcher Isaiah Page, who was lifted after the next hitter.
With two outs in the sixth, UConn rallied again to increase their lead to 4-1, as Kyler Fedko drew a walk and Paul Gozzo followed it up with a double to left field. Then UConn’s top recruit Reggie Crawford singled them both home off amidst a lefty-lefty battle with Keaton Carattini.
Crawford came up big again in the eighth, slashing a double to the left-center gap and clearing the bases in another lefty-lefty battle win over Ben Keizer to make it 7-1.
Starter Nick Krauth had a solid game for the Huskies, throwing 5.2 innings and giving up just one unearned run. He struck out five and walked two in 86 pitches on the afternoon.
Overall there were some things UConn needs to clean up to be successful, defense especially. They made a total of 10 errors on the weekend, with three Friday and Sunday and four on Saturday.
“We gotta play better catch, we’re not playing good catch in the infield,” Penders said post-game Saturday. “We’ve been especially bad in the last two games, balls just off gloves. We’re just not catching the ball, it’s popping out, and when we do get a glove on it, it seems to go 30 feet in the wrong direction and the guy gets another base.”
UConn walked away from the weekend with an important win over a ranked team, who they have to face in a three-game set next weekend.