After a little under two years away from home, the UConn Huskies softball team returns with a twist. In addition to finally playing softball in Storrs again, the Huskies get to play in a brand-new renovated facility. Their first opponent is the Central Connecticut State Blue Devils in a sunset affair.
The Huskies (9-10) are coming off a big series win against the Creighton Blue Jays (7-7) where they won two out of three games by a combined 13 runs. The bats were strong throughout the series and the pitching supported the offense the entire way.
Speaking of offense, leading the way for the Huskies is redshirt junior Hollis Wivell, who is batting .357 in her 16 games played while driving in three runs and stealing nine bases. Her combination of speed and hitting for average is something to keep an eye on as the season progresses.
The strongest performance last weekend had to go to the Big East Freshman of the Week, Jana Sanden. After a three home-run weekend against Creighton, she now bats .322 with four homeruns and a team leading 15 runs batted in.
Senior Reese Guevarra has been as dominant as ever from the leadoff spot while batting .314 with eight runs batted in and junior Aziah James makes up for her bat with her team leading 13 stolen bases.
The big slugger to look out for today is senior Brianna Marcelino, who leads the team with six home runs and is second in steals with 10.
Another key factor the Huskies have for them is youth, especially with a loaded freshman class. In addition to Sanden, Taylor Zatyk (.298) and Madisyn Estorga (.455 in seven games) have taken prominent starting roles this season and have impressed both at the plate and defensively.
Then there is the pitching. Sophomore Meghan O’Neill had some solid outings over the weekend to drop her ERA to 2.87. In 14 appearances over nine starts, O’Neill has a 5-2 record allowing 36 runs (25 earned) on 66 hits and striking out 22.
Freshman Payton Kinney has dominated this season and finishes off an incredibly solid stable. Kinney sports a 3.03 ERA and her 4-8 record does not tell the whole story. Although she has surrendered 44 runs (31 earned) on 56 hits over 14 games, she also has struck out 68 batters, which is second in the conference.
The Blue Devils (4-2) of Central Connecticut State come into town having completed a four-game sweep of Mt. St. Mary’s that involved two doubleheaders.
On offense, Rian Eigenmann is leading the charge with a .421 batting average through six games while Carli Backlund is not far behind with a .385 average of her own and two homeruns. Paige Stringer brings the power with her team leading three homeruns and eight runs batted in.
In addition to those three, one other piece to look out for could be Meg Dugas, who is not far behind the lead in many categories as she has two home runs and six runs batted in of her own. Already, that is a decent mix of hitting, but the reason that the Blue Devils have won games comes down to pitching.
As a team, the pitching has thrown three complete games, allowed 29 runs (23 earned) and struck out 32 batters, which is lower than the 43 that the opposition has struck out on Central Connecticut batters. The team also combines for a 4.02 ERA having played just 40 innings.
The Blue Devils rely on five pitchers in general that sometimes will both start and relieve games. Kaylee Whitaker and Ashley Antonazzo have each started two games while Kate Houghton and Karli Marks have each started one and went the distance.
Marks leads the team with 10 strikeouts but has also allowed nine runs for an ERA of 5.40. Antonazzo has allowed just two earned runs for an ERA of 1.56 while Houghton has an ERA of .78. It will be hard to tell who starts against the Huskies, but the Blue Devils clearly have a lot of options in front of them.
There is a lot on the line here as a Huskies win will propel them back to .500 while a Blue Devils win makes them look like a legitimate contender for the NEC conference crown.
First pitch will commence at 4:00 p.m. EST in the first game at the new Burrill Family Field in Storrs.