The Hook C continues to thrive in the sun, taking the West Coast by storm to win the series against Pepperdine, beating the waves in two out of the three-game series.
“It’s just a really good group, it’s blended well and they believe they’re going to win,” head coach Jim Penders said of his team. “They show up at the ballpark, they believe they’re going to win, it kind of pervades our dugout and throughout the lineup.”
Off to a slow but intense first night of play, there wasn’t a score on the board until the top of the sixth inning where UConn first baseman Ben Huber hit a grand slam to bring second baseman Zach Bushling, designated hitter Casey Dana and left fielder T.C. Simmons home. Bushling hit a single to get on base, and Dana followed up with a double to send him to third. Simmons walked, so everyone could run for a 4-0 lead.
“I’ve just simplified everything,” Huber said of his hitting success as of late. “Instead of trying to do too much, I’m just trying to do what they’re giving to me and just try to stay up the middle.”
The lead increased in the eighth inning with RBI runs from Kevin Ferrer and Matt Donlan to make it 6-0. At the bottom of the inning, Pepperdine scored two runs to lessen UConn’s lead, but couldn’t catch up.
Right-handed pitcher Austin Peterson started for the Huskies and kept them going for seven innings before Brendan O’Donnell pitched briefly. Ian Cooke finished out Friday’s game to keep the lead.
Describing Peterson’s pitching as “amazing,” Huber said that “it makes it really easy on us with all the K’s and just making the right pitches at the right time.” Deeming him a “perfectionist,” Huber claims that it “makes it really easy on the defense.”
On Friday, Peterson had 11 total strikeouts, putting 10 batters out in a row during the game. This was his fourth-straight game where he had at least 10 strikeouts.
“He’s got just such incredible poise,” Penders said of the pitcher. “We’ve had some really good pitchers here; I don’t know if we’ve ever had a guy with better poise than Austin. It’s impressive watching him work, he’s like a surgeon.”
Even without Peterson on the mound for Saturday’s game, the Huskies attacked in the same manner. Although a touch act to follow, Pat Gallagher rose to the challenge to pitch a solid seven innings with nine strikeouts.
“I just trust my stuff. Life’s too short to go out there and be a pansy. You’ve just got to go out there and give it all you’ve got, no matter what happens,” Gallagher said after the game on Saturday. “My team always has my back, we hit the ball really well and being a pitcher when our guys smoke the ball, you’ve just got to give them a chance to be in the game and that’s all I wanted to do.”
On top of it all, Gallagher didn’t walk a single batter in UConn’s 3-2 win over Pepperdine on Saturday.
“I love it,” Gallagher said on the zero-walk day. “At the beginning of the year, I was walking so many guys. That’s probably my best stat that I like to look at, is walks. You just can’t give them the free 90s.”
Offensively, Huber hit strongly again on Saturday to reach the bases along with Bushling to put UConn up 2-0 at the top of the second inning. In the eighth, shortstop Bryan Padilla hit a single to bring Huber home for an extra run.
Pepperdine would score two homeruns in Saturday’s game, but it wasn’t enough to stop the Hook C and they extended their win streak to 10 games. Also, they led the country with a 9-0 record on the road.
Despite the strong efforts on Sunday to close out the series, the Huskies’ win streak stopped at 10 and their perfect record on the road was cut short as UConn fell to Pepperdine 5-6 in another close game. Saturday’s win was only by a run, and now it was the Waves’ turn to beat the Huskies by another visit to home plate.
Pepperdine scored first on Sunday to get an early lead and maintain it for most of the game. Right fielder Korey Morton hit a deep homer to left field to tie the game for the Hook C at the top of the third. Padilla faced a wild pitch which led to third baseman Chris Brown scoring and briefly putting the Huskies up 2-1.
The sixth and seventh innings saw strong bats from Pepperdine to establish a 6-2 lead over UConn going into the eighth inning. Huber kept swinging to hit a homerun and bring Simmons and center fielder Erik Stock home to make it a 6-5 game, with the Waves handing the Huskies their first true road loss, snapping their 1o-game win streak and bringing UConn’s record to 11-2.
UConn will stay in California but travel to Los Angeles to play the University of Southern California on Tuesday, March 14 for a 9 p.m. EST start. The teams haven’t met since 2016, where UConn won on Dedeaux Field in L.A. As of late, the Trojans are 11-3 on the season, most recently winning their series against UCLA this past weekend.
On Wednesday, the Hook C will hit Long Beach for another 9 p.m. game, facing Long Beach State University. The last time UConn played Long Beach was in 1994, and the team is currently 7-7. Long Beach just won a weekend series over Gonzaga after beating Pepperdine 2-1 last Tuesday.
The Hook C will close out its California set of games with a three-game matchup against the University of California San Diego. The Huskies will play the Tritons at 9 p.m. on Saturday, 5 p.m. on Sunday and then at 4 p.m. on Monday. All games against UC are at EST and will be broadcasted on ESPN+.