Baseball: Huskies dominate UMass, sweep weekend series

The UConn baseball team beats UMass 9-2 on a cold afternoon in Elliot Ballpark on Friday, April 2, 2021. UConn has won seven of its last nine games this season. Photo by Maggie Chafouleas/The Daily Campus.

The UConn baseball team looked as good as they have all season this past weekend, outscoring the Minutemen 27-6 in their first series sweep of the year and putting the team’s record over .500 for the first time in 2021. The Huskies (13-12) kicked the weekend off with a 9-2 win Friday afternoon before completing the sweep with 11-1 and 7-3 wins in Saturday’s double header. 

It was a slow burn for UConn in Friday’s series-opener. The team knocked in one run in each of the first three innings, all coming from the Winkel brothers. Pat Winkel got things started in the first with an RBI double down the left field line to score Kyler Fedko, while Chris Winkel doubled the lead by crossing home plate on an infield grounder in the second before Pat scored his first run of the game, this time off a Christian Fedko single to right. Head coach Jim Penders said he loved what his guys were able to do early in this one. 

“Offensively, I loved our approach at the plate,” Penders said. “We took advantage of some of their mistakes … at least early in the inning and then we capitalized. We could’ve been more opportunistic, but we did enough.” 

After a quiet next few innings, freshman Chris Brown got a leadoff triple in the sixth — the first of his career — and crossed home plate after a Ben Maycock sac fly to extend the Huskies’ lead to four. Pat Winkel and Christian Fedko would both knock in their second RBIs on the day to put UConn up 6-0. 

RBIs from Kyler Fedko and Reggie Crawford in the seventh gave the Huskies a 9-0 lead and all but sealed the deal in an all-around dominant series-opener. 

Ben Casparius (3-2) earned his third win of the season and played perhaps his best ball of the season. The UNC transfer went seven innings and allowed just two hits, no runs and punched out eight UMass batters before relief pitcher Brendan O’Donnell and Bobby McBride closed out the game. 

“I thought Ben did an excellent job of pitching to contact probably for the first time all year,” Penders said. “He probably could have finished it today but there was no reason to extend him with the lead [and] I was glad to see Bobby McBride get out there, you got to see how electric his stuff can be.” 

But for as dominant as the Huskies were in Friday’s matchup, they looked even better in the first half of Saturday’s double header, earning their first run-rule win of the season. 

After a quiet first two innings, UConn got hot in the third, using a five-run frame to take the Minutemen out of the game early. Kyler Fedko, Crawford and Erik Stock all knocked in one run while Christian Fedko kept his bat hot, slashing a double down the left field line to bring home his third and fourth runs of the series and put the Huskies up 5-0.  

All nine starters got a hit in the game with six different players bringing in runs and eight different guys crossing home plate, in what was the most complete game we have seen from UConn’s bats.  

“I really like this group,” Penders said. “It’s a bunch of good guys [who] work really hard. We’ll walk back in and get the post-game meal and you’ll already hear the ping of the bats [because] the guys will be working on something. And that’s the sign of a good club, so I like our group.” 

UMass would score their lone run off a solo shot to left field in the fifth before the Huskies ultimately took over the game, ending it in the eighth via the run rule. 

Zach Bushling kicked off the final inning with an inside-the-park homer after the center fielder over committed but came up short, letting the ball roll all the way to the fence. The Huskies followed Bushling’s unconventional homer with back-to-back dingers from Kyler Fedko and Crawford before a shutout inning from relief pitcher Randy Polonia enforced to run rule and gave UConn the series win. 

Austin Peterson (3-1) looked impressive in the win, throwing six innings, allowing four hits, one run and punching out a season-high eight batters before Polonia took care of business with two shutout innings before the run-rule called the game. 

The back half of Saturday’s double header brought more of the same with UConn’s bats taking care of business while the pitching staff kept UMass at bay. 

The Huskies led 1-0 after three innings, but used a six-run fourth inning — the most runs they’ve scored in a single inning all season — to go up 7-0 en route to the 7-3 win and series sweep. 

Chris Winkel and David Langer got things started in the fourth with back-to-back walks with the bases loaded to push UConn’s lead to three, before a bases-clearing double from Brown extended their lead to six. Kyler Fedko would knock in Brown with a double of his own for his lone RBI of the day, but the seven, eight and nine spots for UConn were responsible for six of the team’s seven runs in the game.  

The Minutemen would give the Huskies a bit of a scare in the sixth with a three-run shot to make the game 7-3, but shutout innings from Andrew Marrero, Justin Willis and Caleb Wurster were enough to push UConn to victory and earn the series sweep. 

Joe Simeone (1-3) earned his first win of the year in Saturday’s finale and continued the show UConn’s starting pitchers put on, pitching five shutout innings, letting up just one hit and striking out eight. 

“He really buckled down and did a nice job for us,” Penders said. “He knew didn’t have to do too much today but he gave us exactly what we needed. [We’re] proud of him and really happy that he stuck with it, dug deep today and got us that sweep.” 

The Huskies now sit above .500 for the first time all year and are one of the hottest teams in baseball having won nine of their last 11 games. Next up for the team is a visit from Bryant University before they kick off conference play next weekend. Everything is clicking at the right time for this team, setting up for what should be an exciting second half of the season. 

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