The UConn baseball team had been given a tall task for the onset of the season: Playing five of their first six games against highly ranked competition. Little did they know that would turn into facing the No. 1 overall team in Baseball America’s rankings in all five of those games. They handled it mightily, grabbing three wins against Michigan in the last four games.
“I like the way we competed, a lot of extra base hits today,” head coach Jim Penders said to Chris Jones Sunday after the game. “Hit some gaps. The guy’s swung the bats, gotta do a little bit better at communicating in the outfield, there were some mistakes, our infield play too, our catching play. Overall, a really solid weekend. Whenever you can win a series over one of the best teams in the country, that’s a good weekend any way you slice it.”
This weekend, UConn (3-3) took it to No. 1 Michigan (4-3), winning on Friday 8-7 and Sunday 9-2. The Huskies fell to Michigan Saturday 14-2 as the pitching got hit around and the offense left 11 men on base. They had previously beaten the Wolverines Sunday in the MLB4 tournament in Arizona.
The Huskies have handed Michigan all three of their losses this season behind two strong pitching performances from righty Nick Krauth and some timely hitting from the heart of the order.
“He’s got really good stuff, but the most impressive thing about him is his poise,” Penders said to Jones Sunday. “After we put up a couple of runs, it looked like he had a different gear. Smelled some blood in the water and had that 1-2-3 inning, his stuff got even sharper. That’s a winner right there, I really like watching him work. He’s a lot of fun, he has a certain calm. He has a surgeon’s mentality too, he knows exactly how to pick apart the zone. He knows what he’s doing with it, I like watching him compete.”
In their two wins this weekend, they left just 11 men on base combined while scoring 17 runs. Saturday’s game, however, they couldn’t get the clutch hits they needed, leaving the 11 runners on.
In game one of the weekend, Michigan burst into the lead with a five-spot in the first inning due to some sloppy pitching and heads-up baserunning. UConn grabbed a pair back in the top of the second, though, on the back of a couple wild pitches from pitcher Jeff Criswell and a pair of singles.
Aside from a Jordan Nwogu homer in the bottom of the second, the offense stalled on both sides until the sixth when the Huskies hung a four on the scoreboard to tie it at 6-6.
Zach Bushling led off the sixth with a double and came around to score on a 2-RBI double from Christian Fedko after a Chris Winkel walk. Freshman Reggie Crawford flied to center to bring him home a couple batters later. Michigan let Kevin Ferrer reach and Paul Gozzo score on an error two batters after that, putting the score at 6-6.
Michigan took the lead again in the bottom of the sixth on an RBI single from third basemen Ted Burton. UConn tied it in the top of the eighth on back-to-back doubles from Crawford and Kyler Fedko to lead off the inning.
Reliever Kenny Haus was able to work through traffic in the eighth to keep the Wolverines at bay in the bottom of the eighth, so that UConn could score the eighth and final run in the top of the ninth – completing a hard-fought comeback 8-7.
“Our guys just kept fighting, coach Hourigan said we’re gonna be patient with their starter,” Penders said to Jones Friday. “He has a tendency to not throw a ton of strikes in a row and he gets off with Bushling strike two in a heartbeat, but the guys trusted it and we kind of wore him down a little bit.”
Game two was entirely different, as starter Colby Dunlop and reliever Max Neilson each gave up six earned runs in their combined 3.1 innings. They gave up a combined nine hits and retired just 10 of the 24 batters they faced.
“I think he may have been tipping some things, and that’s something we worked with him on in the pre-season, with Colby,” Penders said to Jones Saturday. “Give them credit, I don’t want to take anything away from them, they did a heck of a job hitting him.”
UConn scored a run in each of the first and second innings, but the offense stalled out after that. Michigan tacked on a couple more throughout the rest of the game en route to a convincing 14-2 win.
Game three was all UConn. After four relatively quiet frames from each team, the Huskies made some two-out noise as Crawford got hit by a pitch and stole second before coming around to score on a Kyler Fedko double. Gozzo followed it up with a double of his own and UConn was up 2-0.
“I think seven of our first eight runs scored via the 2-out RBI, so those cover up a lot of sins,” Penders said Sunday.
Krauth struck out the side in order in the bottom of the fourth, setting the table for UConn’s six-run fifth inning. A lead off hit-by-pitch from Ben Maycock started the rally, which included two RBI doubles and a two-run homer from Gozzo.
“All the way up and down our lineup, it’s just scary sometimes the way we can drive the ball,” Gozzo said to Jones Sunday. “I think in the fifth inning or something, some crazy stat, we had one single and it was Andy [Hague]’s bunt.”
UConn shifted into cruise control against the nation’s top team from then on, tacking on one more in eighth. They gave up a run in the sixth and the ninth, but it was too late for the Wolverines. UConn had already secured their commanding series victory.
Other than the energizing victories against Michigan, there were some notable performances throughout the weekend.
Across the three-game set, Crawford went 6-for-11 with five double, two RBIs and a pair of runs scored. Kyler Fedko had a multi-hit game in each of three contests, and went 7-for-11 overall.
“I’ve been seeing a lot of pitches, every one of my at-bats I’m probably seeing three, four or five pitches,” Fedko said post-game to Jones. “Just to get like one or two visuals under your belt, and you see it up and just go get it.”
Christian Fedko had a heck of a weekend as well, going 5-for-13 with five RBIs and two runs scored.
UConn’s schedule gets a bit easier this next week, as they take on New Orleans down in Lousiana for a three-game set next weekend.