In the first weekend series ever at Elliot Ballpark, the UConn baseball team won two of three against the University of Rhode Island. The series was originally supposed to have two games at Elliot and the third on Sunday in Rhode Island. But bad weather in the forecast forced there to be a lengthy doubleheader at Elliot on Saturday.
It was a great series with close, hard-fought contests in all three games between the Huskies (9-12) and the Rams (10-9-1), two longtime regional rivals.
In Friday’s series opener, it was the UConn bats that came through in a 9-6 win. The Huskies’ ace Ben Casparius started off really solid but got into some trouble in the fourth inning. He walked back-to-back URI hitters and then allowed an RBI single to Sonny Ulliana and then a three-run home run to Xavier Vargas, the first one ever at Elliot. Casparius let up another run in the fifth inning to finish with an uncharacteristic line of five innings, five earned runs, six hits and three walks.
“Ben just showed that he was human and had one rough inning,” head coach Jim Penders said after the game.
When Casparius left the game, the Rams were leading 5-2, but then it was time for UConn’s top hitter Kyler Fedko to put his mark on the game. In the bottom of the fifth, he started the Huskies’ comeback with a solo home run for the first UConn home run at Elliot.
Then in the bottom of the sixth, Reggie Crawford knocked in a pair of runs with a single to tie the game at five with two outs. The Huskies would take the lead the next inning when Erik Stock scored on a throwing error.
Kenny Haus, who got credited with the win, came in relief of Casparius and gave 2.1 scoreless innings to allow UConn to come back. But the Huskies were still looking for some insurance. They got it in the eighth inning with a pair of home runs: A second solo shot by Fedko and a two-run homer by Chris Winkel, who came in as a defensive replacement the previous inning.
Winkel really struggled earlier in the season and was benched, but he came through in a big spot for his team on Friday.
“Today, he did a really good job,” Penders said. “He was ready to hit. He hit a hanging breaking ball really, really hard … I certainly would love to get him back in there. There were just too many strikeouts early in the season.”
The team would end up needing that insurance, as closer Caleb Wurster didn’t have his best stuff. He got into some trouble by hitting a couple of batters, and he even let up a run. But he made just enough pitches to escape with his third save of the season.
Saturday’s first game didn’t feature nearly as much offense despite going four innings longer. Pat Winkel hit an RBI double in the fourth inning and Zach Bushling drove in a run with a groundout in the fifth. Then URI’s Vargas tied the game with his second home run of the series in the sixth inning.
From then on, there were no runs until Pat Winkel’s walk-off home run in the bottom of the 13th inning gave the Huskies a 3-2 win. Andrew Marrerro, Wurster and Justin Willis combined for 5.1 scoreless innings of relief, and Willis picked up his first win of the season.
The first game went long which meant the second game of the doubleheader couldn’t start until after 5 p.m. and didn’t wrap up until after 9. This game didn’t have the result the Huskies wanted, as it ended in a 6-4 Rams win.
The lead changed hands multiple times, with UConn taking an early lead on a triple by Stock. Then Vargas, who absolutely destroyed the Huskies at the plate over the weekend, hit a two-run home run to give the Rams the lead. He would hit another home run his next at-bat to put the Rams up 3-2. The Huskies answered by scoring two runs in the bottom of the sixth inning when Stock drove in a run on a single and eventually came around to score on a wild pitch.
This 4-3 lead would last until the eighth inning when Colby Dunlop let up three runs to the URI lineup in another rough outing for him. Penders said after the game that he wanted to get Crawford into the game that inning, but the way the UConn lineup fell in the bottom of the seventh, he couldn’t get loose in time. The Rams took a 6-4 lead that would hold until the end, thus salvaging the last game of the series.
The Huskies scored only seven runs combined in the two games on Saturday after tearing the cover off the ball in Friday’s matchup.
“Our offense was just really abysmal the whole day,” Penders said. “It’s funny how offense comes and goes, but it was not there today.”
It was a long day at the ballpark that ended in a split result, but Penders said even when you win a series, losing the last game always leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
“The objective is to win the series, but I don’t think any of us are happy leaving here tonight,” Penders said.
Next up, the Huskies will host Boston College on Tuesday at 3 p.m. for another midweek regional game at Elliot.