The UConn Huskies softball team picked up a sweep against the Butler Bulldogs this weekend. In their first home Big East series in eight years, the stars came out to play in all three games.
The ceremonies of the first game started with some messages from UConn President Thomas Katsouleas and athletic director David Benedict as well as testimonials from many members of the softball team.
Following this ceremony, Katsouleas threw out the ceremonial first pitch, waving off the first signal from graduate student Devon Casazza before hurling a curveball down the middle.
Back to the games though, the first two innings were relatively quiet as both Karli Ricketts and freshman Payton Kinney limited the offenses with their skill and strikeout prowess.
After a single from Lauren Fey in the top half of the frame, the Husky offense responded with a four-run barrage. Following a walk to freshman Makenzie Mason, senior Reese Guevarra doubled her in to score the game’s first run. Almost immediately after a single from junior Aziah James that saw Guevarra force the third baseman to throw to second, freshman Jana Sanden stepped up to make an impact once again.
This one requires some explaining, Sanden hit a three-run home run. At first, it was believed to be a foul ball as it was hooking toward the left field foul pole. The umpires ruled it a home run that caused confusion and celebration as Sanden’s fifth of the year made it a 4-0 ballgame.
After two-and-a-half innings that went by quite quickly, the Huskies decided to add more to their lead in the bottom of the sixth. With two on from singles by junior Sami Barnett and redshirt junior Hollis Wivell, Mason legged out a bases-clearing triple that extended the lead to 6-0.
“When I got up to the plate, I wasn’t trying to do too much,” commented Mason after her strong performance.
The defense held strong in the top of the seventh as a Ricketts solo shot sparked nothing and the Huskies won the first game 6-1 to improve above .500 (11-10) for the first time since February when they were 5-4.
Ricketts took the loss after going 5.2 innings allowing six runs on eight hits, two walks and 10 strikeouts. Kinney dominated again as she went the distance allowing a run on two hits, no walks and seven strikeouts.
In the second game, the Huskies picked up their first run via pure luck. Luck is a strong term here because both Barnett and Wivell reached on throwing errors that just went over the first baseman’s glove. Despite Wivell advancing to third base, that is all the Huskies could muster in the bottom half of the second as they led 1-0.
The Bulldogs finally got their offense together in the top of the fourth with a sequence of events. Mackenzie Griman tied the game with a solo shot and then Ricketts followed that up with a triple that Guevarra almost robbed at the wall. Ricketts proceeded to score when Bri Avery singled to give the Bulldogs a 2-1 lead.
Sophomore Meghan O’Neill, who started that game, was pulled for Kinney to limit the damage with one out. This worked out incredibly well as Kinney struck out the next two batters swinging on three pitches each. All the Huskies had to do now was respond.
They did respond when a Casazza home run on a 3-0 count equalized the game at two, giving Casazza her sixth homerun of the year which is tied for the team lead with senior Briana Marcelino.
After both teams left runners stranded in their half of the fifth inning and a wacky walk for Alyssa Garcia in the top of the sixth, the Husky offense flipped a switch and got down to business trying to take the lead back.
Barnett got the rally started with a strong double to center field, then junior Ashley Etsy was hit by a pitch and the bases were fully loaded when junior Emily Piergustavo singled up the middle. Mason turned on the clutch again and hit a bloop single that gave the Huskies the lead back 3-2.
The damage was not done yet as Guevarra, who had already gone 1-2 on steal attempts this game, whacked a single beyond most of the infielders to double the lead and add some insurance runs in a 4-2 ballgame. James and Sanden failed to score anyone else, and the job was handed back to Kinney to shut the door.
Hearst were thumping as an error, an intentional walk, and a single loaded up the bases with two outs and Christina Candotti ready to tie the game or even give the Bulldogs the lead. Ultimately, she flew out to Sanden and the Huskies swept the doubleheader with a 4-2 victory, moving the Huskies to 12-10 on the season.
O’Neil went 3.1 innings allowing two runs on five hits, no walks and a strikeout while Kinney dominated yet again by going 3.2 innings allowing no runs on two hits, three walks and five strikeouts.
“What really contributed was everybody just doing their job, whether it be at the plate or on defense, everyone had my back,” commented Kinney following the doubleheader.
The final game of the series was somewhat quick and “uneventful” until the third inning when the Huskies had the bases loaded again after a Piergustavo single, a stolen base from sophomore Callie Jolley, a walk to Mason and a single by Guevarra. With one down, Sanden stepped up to the plate and drove in Jolley on a sacrifice fly to give the Huskies a 1-0 lead.
Butler had a chance to tie the game in the top of the fifth as they had the bases loaded on two walks and an error with two outs but failed to bring the runners home as Griman flew out to Mason to end the frame.
After no one scored in the bottom of the fifth, the game moved on into the sixth inning. However, because of the game being official after five innings, the following records for the top of the sixth may never exist, so here they are now.
Ricketts was hit by a pitch, then McMahon walked on a full count. With two on and nobody out, Kinney struck out both Candotti and Maddie Moore to prevent anyone from scoring.
Following the strikeout from Moore, the umpires called for the tarp and less than 15 minutes later, the game was called, and the Huskies won 1-0 against the Bulldogs (9-15) for their first series sweep of the year.
Kinney went the distance once again, going all 5.2 innings (five counted for) allowing no runs on a hit five walks (one in the sixth) and four strikeouts (half of which were in the sixth). With the wins this weekend, she improves to 8-8.
The pieces are starting to click together for the Huskies offensively and defensively, which leaves the door open for them to outright dominate many of their upcoming opponents both in and out of the Big East.
The Huskies (13-10) will travel up to the Chicago area next weekend for a three-game series against the DePaul Blue Demons with a doubleheader on Saturday and one game on Sunday.