The UConn baseball team traveled to Hattiesburg this weekend to take on a tough Southern Mississippi team in a three-game series. But despite leading at one point in all three meetings, the Huskies (2-4) dropped both Friday and Saturday’s games by one run before besting the Golden Eagles in a 10-7 win on Sunday.
UConn struck first in Friday’s series-opener, with Andy Hague and Erik Stock hitting back-to-back singles to open up the inning. Pat Winkel followed it up with a sacrifice fly to deep right field that would bring Hague across home plate to open up the scoring.
A leadoff home run for USM would knot the score at one, but a pair of Winkel homers from brothers Pat and Chris in the third gave the Huskies the lead right back.
From there, UConn sank back into their strikeout issues at the plate, whiffing or getting caught daydreaming on five of their next six at bats en route to 12 Ks on the day, but Ben Casparius (0-1) was doing enough on the mound to keep the Huskies out front.
In his second start this year, the fourth-year junior went seven innings, gave up four earned runs, struck out seven and left the field with his guys up 5-4. But in unusual fashion, normally sure-handed Kenny Haus entered the game in the eighth and the Golden Eagles blew the game open.
Facing four batters, Haus struck out the first before walking the next two and hitting the third to set up Caleb Wurster with bases loaded. USM would bring in two runs in the inning and shut out the Huskies in the top of the ninth to hand UConn it’s third loss of the year and second by just one run.
Head coach Jim Penders said the biggest issue has been and continues to be plate composure and had a couple at bats gone his team’s way the game would have been different.
“When we put balls in play or got on top of the baseball good things were happening,” Penders said. “We just didn’t get enough bats to the baseball … we have to be better with our approach at the plate.”
Game 2 almost flipped the script, but the Huskies once again came up just short.
UConn got off to another hot start and held a 3-0 lead after three innings on the back of RBIs from Reggie Crawford, David Langer and Kyler Fedko, but a 3-run homer from the Golden Eagles’ Chris Sargent tied the score in the third before USM outright took the lead one inning later.
The Huskies’ offense was rendered ineffective for the next few frames, but an eighth inning push nearly proved enough for UConn to mount their own comeback.
Ciaran Devenney started things off with a blooper to center field, and after a Chris Winkel pop up, Zach Bushling and Stock loaded up the bases with Pat Winkel up to bat. In his first hit of the day, Winkel singled the ball to center field, bringing Devenney and Bushling home to close the cut USM’s lead to two. Crawford would get his second RBI on the day in that inning to make it 7-6 Golden Eagles, but were shut out from there and were handed their second one-run loss in as many days.
Penders liked what he saw in the eighth, but knows his team has to be able to convert on those chances every time they arise if they want to start winning games consistently.
“We’ve gotta step up in the moment,” Penders said. “We’re not getting enough of those dudes stepping up. Had a ton of opportunities early, then too many zeros in the middle of the ballgame and left so many runners on.”
Joe Simeone was handed the loss, giving up four earned runs and striking out four in his 3.1 innings pitched.
UConn finally got their revenge in Game 3 in an impressive 10-7 win that, while in doubt at points in the game, was enough to earn the team their second win of the year and prevent the sweep. A huge part of that being the efforts of Reggie Crawford.
After going a combined 2-8 in the series’ first two games, Crawford took over in Sunday’s finale and almost single-handedly earned his team the win. The second-year freshman opened up the box score with a double into left field in the second inning, and followed it up with a two-run homer in the fourth and another three-run homer in the fifth to knock in five of the Huskies’ six runs to that point and put them up 6-0. Crawford said it was all game plan.
“I knew they were gonna try to spin me the whole at bat,” Crawford said. “I was just trying to stay opposite field and I found a pitch that I could take advantage of.”
UConn would extend their lead to seven, but another pitching change at the start of the seventh nearly cost the Huskies the win. Checking in for starting pitcher Austin Peterson, Colby Dunlop would give up three quick runs. Followed up by a couple errors from the infield, USM put themselves squarely back in the game, tightening the score to 7-5.
The Huskies sealed the win in the top of the eighth with a 2-RBI double from Erik Stock and a sac fly from Crawford to give him his career-high sixth RBI on the day.
Caleb Wurster would pitch two shutout innings to earn the save and give UConn their second win of the season, but the star pitcher of the day was Peterson, who in his first start for the Huskies threw six innings and struck out eight, allowing two hits and just one run.
Penders said this was exactly the kind of performance they needed from the junior.
“Austin was awesome,” Penders said. “He was as advertised and showed a little emotion that I hadn’t seen from him which was good. I was happy to see him come out and really chuck it. He was really really on.”
Next up for UConn is a trip to South Carolina as they prepare to face off against Miami University, Davidson College and Coastal Carolina University in search of their first series win.