After going 15 days without a game due to a positive COVID-19 case in UConn’s program, the Huskies are headed to Ohio to take on Xavier University in a four-game conference series. Prior to their shutdown, UConn (16-12, 2-0 Big East) was one of the hottest teams in college baseball, having won 11 of their last 12 matchups, most recently beating conference opponent Georgetown by a combined score of 16-0 over two games.
They have a bit of a tougher task ahead of them with the Musketeers on the ballot, but if this UConn team can look anything like it did prior to the program’s pause, there’s no reason they can’t keep the ball rolling and bats swinging this weekend.
“They have a bit of a tougher task ahead of them with the Musketeers on the ballot, but if this UConn team can look anything like it did prior to the program’s pause, there’s no reason they can’t keep the ball rolling and bats swinging this weekend.”
After a shaky start to the season, the Huskies find themselves with some of the most consistent bats in the conference, with five of their regular starters batting over .300 on the year. Kyler Fedko still leads the way, slashing a .408/.456/.680 line and pacing the team in hits (42) and runs (27), and is second on the team in RBIs (26). In his first Big East series against the Hoyas, the preseason Conference Player of the Year went 4-6 and knocked in two runs in two games.
UConn’s current hot streak saw Kevin Ferrer, Christian Fedko, Pat Winkel and Erik Stock all get their averages over .300 for the year, but the X-factor for this group remains second-year freshman Reggie Crawford. After batting .365 through in last year’s abbreviated season, expectations were lofty for Crawford heading into 2021. And while he hasn’t quite met those expectations, he certainly hasn’t disappointed either.
The freshman’s batting average is down about halfway through the season, sitting at just .269 thus far, but he leads the team in home runs (8) and RBIs (33), showcasing that power he worked on this offseason. If Crawford can ease up on the strikeouts — he leads the team with 30 — he can be the final piece that pushes this contact-heavy team to the top. That and one other important part of the game, UConn’s pitching.
For as good as their bats have been in their current win-streak, the Huskies rotation has been the clear difference maker, ranking No. 2 in the nation in shutouts and NO. 9 in Ks per nine. Ben Casparius (4-2) began the season relatively hit-or-miss, but has come alive in his last two starts, pitching 14 combined scoreless innings and punching out an absurd 23 batters along the way.
Alongside Casparius, the surprise of the season has been Austin Peterson. The fourth-year junior boasts a 4-1 record with a team-best 2.13 ERA and has given up just two runs and struck out 27 over his last four starts. When Casparius and Peterson can get out of the gate quickly, the bats and bullpen will almost always come through, with Randy Polonia and Caleb Wurster representing some of the best relief options in the conference.
“When Casparius and Peterson can get out of the gate quickly, the bats and bullpen will almost always come through, with Randy Polonia and Caleb Wurster representing some of the best relief options in the conference.”
Like UConn, Xavier (14-15, 5-2 Big East) has a bunch of guys who can hurt you, led by senior Ryan Altenberger, who after missing the first month of the season paces the team with an impressive .413/.534/.783 slashing line.
The Musketeers have eight players who have knocked in double-digit RBIs compared to nine for the Huskies, but have been racking up the runs as of late, reaching at least 10 runs in five of their last nine games, including a 24-run showing against Dayton to start the month. Xavier’s coming into this series hot having won five of their last six games, so it’ll be crucial for UConn’s pitching to shut them down, an area they may have the advantage of over the Musketeers.
Xavier’s rotation has been far from consistent halfway through the season. Trevor Olson serves as their ace with a 2.92 ERA through six starts, but once the bullpen comes into play things get a little less reliable.
Michael Dillon has been the team’s best relief man with a 4.15 ERA through nine appearances, but beyond him the Musketeers have just two other rotation guys with at least five appearances and an ERA under seven. If UConn can get on the board early and force Xavier’s starters out of the game, runs should pile up for the Huskies this weekend.
Due to expected rain the series will kick off with a double-header Sunday with games at noon and 3 p.m. before two more games are played Monday and Tuesday to wrap up. After missing the past two weeks due to COVID-19 regulations, it will be interesting to see how UConn comes out this weekend.