The UConn baseball team began its season this weekend against a tough ACC opponent in Virginia and lost two out of the three games in Charlottesville.
The Cavaliers (2-1) were ranked No. 16 in the D1Baseball.com poll but were as high as No. 5 on the Baseball America preseason poll, so this was always going to be a tough matchup for the Huskies (1-2). But UConn was in each game, and it was a really good series. The Huskies won an ugly high-scoring affair 10-9 on Saturday, but the offense struggled in the other two games, losing 2-1 on Friday and 4-2 in the rubber match on Sunday.
In Friday’s season opener, it was a classic pitcher’s duel, as UConn’s new ace Ben Casparius squared off with UVA’s Andrew Abbott, a preseason All-American. Abbott ended up with the upper hand, going 5.2 scoreless innings while allowing only two hits and striking out nine. Casparius, a four-year junior transfer from North Carolina, also threw 5.2 innings, but he allowed two earned runs and four hits while striking out six.
The first run came in the first inning, when Casparius hit Virginia catcher Logan Michaels with a pitch with the bases loaded to force in a run. The second run came on an RBI groundout by right fielder Alex Tappen in the third inning to make it 2-0 Cavaliers.
Aside from that, Casparius was great, recording perfect 1-2-3 innings in the second, fourth and fifth innings. Head coach Jim Penders was impressed with the first showing from his ace.
“Ben’s got great stuff,” Penders said after Friday’s game. “When he doesn’t feel great with one pitch, he can throw a couple. He can throw his slider, changeup or curveball in any count he wants. He’s got very good command. I loved his presence out there, and I think he’s going to be a really big part of our success this season.”
Casparius pitched well in his UConn debut, but he got tagged with the loss because the Huskies couldn’t do much of anything on offense against Abbott and the rest of the UVA staff. The lone exception came in the seventh inning, when two-year freshman first baseman Reggie Crawford blasted a home run to right field off of Paul Kosanovich.
That was the only run and one of only three hits for the Huskies on opening day, as they lost a tough one 2-1.
Saturday’s game was anything but a pitcher’s duel, as the two teams combined for 19 runs, 20 hits, 19 walks and three errors in UConn’s 10-9 victory. Two-year freshman Chris Brown, making the start at third base, had a big day with two hits and four RBIs. He had a two-run single in the fourth to get the Huskies on the board, he picked up an RBI on a hit by pitch in the sixth and he added another RBI single in the seventh.
“I was very proud of Chris Brown,” Penders said after Saturday’s game. “He gets his first hit in our uniform and he got four RBIs … The first one was where we really needed it. Two outs, he finds a way, he’s ready to hit. He doesn’t hit it on the screws, but [Virginia] doesn’t hit everything on the screws either … He did a good job today. I was happy with the way that he played.”
Four-year junior captain Christian Fedko notched his first career four-hit game that included an RBI single in the eighth inning that broke a 7-7 tie.
It was truly a back-and-forth contest, as every time UConn took a lead, Virginia stormed right back. It happened all the way until the end, as even after the Huskies took a 10-7 lead in the top of the ninth on an RBI double by Kyler Fedko — the first hit of the season for the preseason Big East Co-Player of the Year — the Cavaliers made it interesting in the bottom of the ninth when Fedko made an error in right field to allow two runs to score, making it 10-9.
Caleb Wurster was able to retire the next batter, and the Huskies held on for the win. Wurster picked up the victory with 2.2 solid innings in relief, while UVA’s Kyle Whitten, who surrendered two runs to UConn in the eighth inning, picked up the loss.
“It was an ugly baseball game,” Penders said. “For two relatively talented experienced teams, it was an ugly, ugly game.”
Sunday’s series finale was definitely cleaner, but the result didn’t go in the Huskies favor in a 4-2 Virginia win. UConn’s offense struggled once again, only managing four hits and two runs, one on a wild pitch in the third inning and another on an error in the ninth. UVA’s starter Mike Vasil was nearly unhittable, striking out six Huskies over six innings while allowing just three hits and one unearned run.
On the other side, Virginia got to UConn’s starter Jimmy Wang early, as he let up three hits and two runs in his 1.2 innings of work. Junior transfer Austin Peterson followed Wang with 3.2 innings of one-run ball in his UConn debut. The Cavaliers also scored one run off Pat Gallagher in his 1.2 innings of work. The only UConn pitcher with a clean line was freshman Brendan O’Donnell in his college debut, who threw a scoreless eighth inning.
None of these guys necessarily pitched bad, but Virginia collected 11 hits and was able to string enough together to score some runs, which UConn was not able to do. The UConn offense struck out too much this weekend, at least 11 times in each game. The UVA pitching staff was good, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s hard to have success when you’re not putting the ball in play. The Huskies didn’t do enough of that this weekend, and as a result, they lost the series.
The good news for UConn is that it’s very early in the season, and despite not having a great weekend, the team still got a win over a nationally ranked opponent. There’s a lot for these guys to build off of next weekend when they travel to Hattiesburg, Miss. to play three games against Southern Miss.