In what was probably the grittiest series of the year for the UConn baseball team, HookC was able to tough out two wins at home against a scrappy Villanova squad, capping off the series with a walk-off sacrifice fly from Casey Dana.
Friday’s game was a solid showing from the Huskies, as they clawed the Wildcats by a score of 4-1. Like the majority of its games, UConn struck first, putting men on the corners before Dana drove in a run on a fielder’s choice in the third inning. The Huskies continued to put pressure on Villanova’s starting pitcher, Cole Patten, by putting a man in scoring position for David Smith, who collected an RBI single in the fourth inning.
It wasn’t until the seventh inning that the Wildcats’ offense got to ace Austin Peterson, as a hit batsman and a single to center field put runners on the corners early. A fielder’s choice back to Peterson got the runner out at home plate, but an AJ Hansen single soon after brought in the first run of the game for Villanova to make it 2-1.
Ever hungry for more runs, the Huskies got some insurance on the board in the eighth thanks to a Ben Huber RBI double and a sacrifice fly off the bat of Christian Fedko. Peterson came out to start the ninth, looking to go the distance, but a quick walk and ground rule double early in the inning was enough for head coach Jim Penders to go to Justin Willis to close out the game. Willis proceeded to strike out both of his batters and UConn closed out a 4-1 win.
Even with the trouble in the seventh and ninth innings, Peterson was spectacular on the hill once again. He finished the day with 8.1 innings pitched, allowing one run, five hits and two walks. Peterson fanned seven batters en route to his eighth win of the year, continuing his perfect season in the win/loss column.
In the first game, despite the win, the UConn bats had an uncharacteristic day at the plate, as the team averages over eight runs a game. Now, that success obviously can’t be replicated on a daily basis, and it didn’t on Saturday either, as the Huskies fell for the first time in 12 games by a score of 4-1.
John Whooley was the MVP of this contest, as the Wildcat drove in all four runs for Villanova, both coming on RBI doubles in the first and third innings. Whooley finished the day 2-for-2 with four RBIs, a walk and a hit-by-pitch. Trailing 4-0 early in the matchup, UConn had little response against pitcher Tyler Arella, driving in their first run in the eighth inning off of an Erik Stock RBI single. Catcher Matt Donlan was the only Husky to record multiple hits.
Pat Gallagher was formidable for HookC on Saturday, going 6.2 innings for his team and allowing three earned runs and six hits alongside eight strikeouts. Garrett Coe and Devin Kirby provided a combined two innings of scoreless relief.
Game three’s pitchers also stifled the typically hot UConn offense, but good teams always find ways to win matchups like these. And, that’s exactly what this team did in a 2-1 thriller.
Following trends from the last two days, there were quite a few innings with uncapitalized opportunities for both teams, with the Huskies becoming the first team on the board in the sixth inning thanks to a Stock triple and a Dana sacrifice fly to lead off the inning. After six long innings, it seemed like UConn was in the driver’s seat for the first time since Friday’s win. That feeling didn’t last long, however, as Hansen responded once more for the Wildcats in the top of the seventh with a solo home run, putting starter Enzo Stefanoni out of the game for the day.
HookC looked to break the tie once more in the bottom of the seventh, loading the bases for Dana, but a flyout would end the inning. He would get his redemption just two innings later, with the game still tied 1-1. After a sacrifice bunt from Bryan Padilla put men on second and third with one out, Villanova decided to intentionally walk the superstar Stock. This paved the way for Dana to hit a ball just deep enough to center field to allow Smith to score from third in walk-off fashion.
Stefanoni led the way on the mound with another strong showing, going six full innings, allowing just one run, six hits and two walks. Brady Afthim provided two innings of one-hit relief, and Brendan O’Donnell closed out the ninth to put the Huskies in a position to win the game.
Next up for Connecticut is a couple of one-off games against Northeastern and Yale on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively. Tuesday’s game will be at Northeastern at 2:30 p.m., and will be broadcast on NESN and Mixlr. Wednesday’s game will be at Elliot Ballpark in Storrs at 4:05 p.m., and will be broadcast on FloSports, ESPN 97.9 and Mixlr.