Baseball: No. 25 HookC takes hard-fought series against Kent State

3/23/22 Baseball v. Bryant by Julie Spillane Grab Photographer. The UConn Baseball team defeats Bryant University 9-1 at Elliot Ballpark. The Huskies will face URI next in a three-game series this weekend.

After a tough loss on Tuesday at home against Boston College, the No. 25 UConn baseball team fought back in a big way, winning a few narrowly contested matchups en route to a weekend series win over Kent State. 

Friday’s contest was a back-and-forth affair that really set the tone for the kind of  competition the Huskies would see the rest of the weekend. A Bryan Padilla single put Connecticut up early in the third, but the Golden Flashes struck back quickly on back-to-back home runs in the bottom of the inning, with the second one earned with the ball staying inside the park. After three, the score was 2-1 Kent State. 

Despite a solid outing up to that point, the top of the fourth was where Golden Flash pitcher Richie Dell started to crumble, as he walked the bases loaded for a hungry Zach Bushling. Rising to the occasion, Bushling crushed a bases-clearing double to take the 4-2 lead. There were a few Kent State comeback attempts the rest of the way, but Bushling’s knock and some stellar pitching from the Huskies kept HookC on top in the 4-3 win. 

Austin Peterson got the start for UConn in this one, allowing three runs and five hits over eight innings. He walked none and struck out 10 in another solid performance from the senior. Peterson had to deal with the pesky Kent State lineup amid some mid-game flurries that he took in stride, stepping up when he needed to. After a leadoff single in the bottom of the seventh, the Golden Flashes sacrifice bunted to put the tying run in scoring position. Peterson, already with a high pitch count in the 90s, struck out the next two batters in six total pitches. 

The only pitcher out of the bullpen on Friday for UConn was closer Justin Willis who threw a full inning of relief, striking out all three batters faced in the ninth. 

Saturday’s contest was another close one. The Huskies again jumped out to an early lead, this time off a two-run blast from Casey Dana in the first. Kent State chipped away at the lead, tying the game at two apiece after a sacrifice fly in the third and a fielder’s choice in the fifth.  

HookC appeared to break the game open in the seventh after RBI singles from Matt Garbowski and Padilla alongside a sacrifice fly from Bushling capped a three-run inning. The Golden Flashes didn’t go away though, putting immediate pressure on the UConn pitching staff in the bottom of the inning. Pat Gallagher and Ian Cooke combined to load the bases, and a two-RBI single, followed by another sacrifice fly, tied the game once more. There were a few opportunities for each team in the remaining two innings as both had runners in scoring position, but after nine, the score was still tied and the game headed into extras. 

The meat of the lineup really came through for the Huskies in the tenth inning, as three consecutive hits, two singles and a home run from Padilla, Erik Stock and Dana, respectively, gave Connecticut its second three-run inning of the game. A solo shot from Kent State in the bottom of the inning wasn’t enough to make a difference as HookC took the series after two games. 

Gallagher started on the mound for the Huskies, going 6.1 innings and allowing four earned runs, four hits and two walks. He struck out nine batters on the day in the no-decision. Cooke was great in relief after the seventh inning, pitching two scoreless innings to get to extras. Willis came out to close the contest, allowing just one hit and one run, picking up the save. 

Sunday’s game saw a different tone, as Kent State was hungry for a win after two tough losses at home. The Golden Flashes struck first, drawing a hit-by-pitch, followed by a two-run homer off of starting pitcher Enzo Stefanoni in the first inning. Connecticut was quick to retaliate, putting two men on before Matt Donlan provided a needed three-run blast to take the lead in the top of the second. After a Kent State solo shot and a Padilla RBI single in the third and fifth innings, respectively, the Huskies still held onto a one run lead heading into the seventh.  

The Golden Flashes put some pressure on UConn reliever Cole Chudoba in the seventh, putting men on first and third with one out. Kent State ran a double steal that was successful, drawing an out at second but scoring a run at the plate. The next inning, the Huskies sent out Jack Sullivan on the hill, who had yet to allow a run in eight appearances on the season. A hard fought single up the middle, coupled with a successful hit-and-run play, put runners on the corners with one out. A perfectly placed safety squeeze bunt from the Golden Flashes left the UConn defense in a tough situation, allowing all runners to be safe and the go-ahead run to cross the plate. In the top of the ninth, HookC was unfruitful in their comeback attempt, dropping the last game of the series 5-4. 

Next up for the Huskies are two solo home games on Tuesday and Wednesday against Central Connecticut and Merrimack, respectively. Both games will start at 3:05 p.m. and will be broadcast on FloSports. 

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