The UConn baseball team opened up Elliot Ballpark, its beautiful new on-campus stadium, with a 2-0 win over Central Connecticut State on Tuesday afternoon.
It was a special day for the program, and after the game, head coach Jim Penders explained how the first meeting about the park with him and Doug Elliot (who the park is named after) came way back in November of 2003. It’s been quite a journey from then to now.
“We both were wondering at times if it was really going to get done, and there were so many obstacles in our way,” Penders said. “There’s so many folks that had so much to do with today … We were just thrilled.”
The game was a good one. The Huskies got on the board early in the first inning without the benefit of a hit. Zach Bushling was hit by a pitch to begin the inning. Then Kyler Fedko reached a fielder’s choice. He then stole second base. After Christian Fedko walked, the CCSU catcher tried to pick Kyler off at second base and the ball sailed into center field. Kyler came around to score the first run ever at Elliot ballpark.
“We both were wondering at times if it was really going to get done, and there were so many obstacles in our way. There’s so many folks that had so much to do with today … We were just thrilled.”Jim Penders, Head Coach of UConn’s Men Baseball Team
After that, it was truly a pitcher’s duel. Pat Gallagher started the game for the Huskies and he was fantastic, picking up the first win of his career. He threw five shutout innings and only allowed three hits and one walk while striking out nine.
“He was more in command of his emotions and he was attacking the strike zone much better than he has previously this season,” Penders said. “Hopefully it’s something he can really build on.”
Kenny Haus, Andrew Marrerro, Randy Polonia and Caleb Wurster each threw a scoreless inning in relief to lock down the win, with Wurster picking up his second save of the season. In a season where the pitching has been somewhat unstable for the Huskies, Tuesday marked the second consecutive shutout by UConn’s staff.
“If you execute your pitch, by and large good things will happen,” Penders said. “We certainly executed more pitches on Sunday and today than we have in just about any other game all year. So the results speak for themselves.”
But the Blue Devils’ staff was impressive as well. They had a complete bullpen day with eight different pitchers each throwing one inning, and for the most part, they kept UConn’s dangerous lineup quiet. UConn didn’t pick up its first hit at Elliot Ballpark until the fourth inning — a single through the left side by Erik Stock. The Huskies only managed four hits total, although it seemed like they were threatening all game because they drew five walks and three hit by pitches.
But whenever they had a runner in scoring position, they couldn’t come through with a big hit, so it remained a one-run game until late.
“We can hit, we just got out of our own heads a little bit today and let the emotion of the moment take over,” Penders said.
In the eighth inning, UConn finally got a timely hit when Stock singled up the middle to drive home Christian Fedko from second base to make it 2-0. That gave Wurster a little bit more breathing room, and he breezed through the ninth to seal the win for UConn.
It was certainly a joyous day for the baseball program. The stands may not have been full, but there were enough people there to make some noise, and it was a beautiful day for a game. One person in particular that Penders was both surprised and honored to see at the game was former UConn basketball coach and hall of famer Jim Calhoun.
“I almost lost it. I’m supposed to be at his games, so that was a real role reversal,” Penders joked after the game. “That’s pretty cool stuff. I’m getting goosebumps right now thinking about it.”
Overall, it was a great day, and even though the offense didn’t play its best, the defense and pitching really stepped up to deliver UConn a meaningful first win in its new home.
“Hopefully, that’s one of many victories over the years that I hope to be part of at Elliot Ballpark,” Penders said.