The University of Connecticut baseball team kicked off a heavily-anticipated 2023 campaign by taking two out of four games against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the first weekend of the 2023 Snowbird Classic.
The two programs faced off for their first matchup on Friday from CoolToday Park in Venice, Florida. Both teams sent their top arm to the mound to lift off the season, as Big East Preseason Pitcher of the Year Ian Cooke drew the start for Connecticut while Isaiah Coupet was his counterpart for the Buckeyes.
Graduate student Cole Andrews was responsible for the Buckeyes’ first run of the season. In the bottom of the first with one out, Marcus Ernst singled off of Cooke before advancing to second on a walk and taking third base on a fly out. With two outs in the innings, Andrews slapped a single back up the middle of the field, scoring Ernst from third to give Ohio State the early 1-0 lead. Both pitchers battled over the next several innings to prevent the opponent’s offense from building momentum. It wasn’t until the sixth inning when another team touched home plate. With two outs in the inning and two runners in scoring position, the Buckeyes’ Henry Kaczmar turned around a double to center field to bring the ducks in from the pond and extend his team’s lead to 3-0. The Ohio State relievers went the remaining distance to secure the Opening Day victory.
Coupet did an extraordinary job silencing the UConn bats in his first start of the season. Over six innings of work, the junior struck out nine batters and yielded just one hit and one walk to the Connecticut offense, earning himself the win. He was succeeded by scoreless efforts by Jacob Gehring (one IP, one SO) and Landon Beidelschies (2 IP, two SO), the latter of which tallied a multi-inning save for the first save of his college career. For the Huskies, Cooke was able to mediate the damage done by the Buckeyes but was hurt by his offense failing to provide him with any support. His final stat line included six innings of work over which he struck out eight batters, walked one, gave up eight hits and allowed three runs to cross the plate. Despite the quality start, he was credited with the loss. Zach Fogell (1 IP) and Thomas Elilsen (1 IP, 2 SO) each recorded a scoreless inning for UConn.
Saturday’s second game, from Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Florida, saw Jack Sullivan take the bump for the Huskies against Justin Eckhardt for Ohio State. After Ernst homered in the first to give the Buckeyes a 1-0 lead, the Connecticut offense came alive in the third. With runners on first and second, outfielder Korey Morton swatted a triple to the gap in right-center, chasing home both runners and giving UConn their first lead of the weekend at 2-1. Morton was driven home on a sacrifice fly by the next batter, Dominic Freeberger, making it 3-1 Connecticut. The Buckeyes tacked on a second run in the fourth, but the Huskies weren’t done. The team added a fourth run in the top of the fifth innings after a triple by Jake Studley set up an RBI groundout by David Smith. With two outs in the frame, Morton legged out an infield single to pass the baton to Freeberger, who delivered with a two-run homer to blow UConn’s lead up to 6-2. Two innings later, Morton smacked a two-run homer of his own and in the top of the ninth, scored Connecticut’s final run after an error. Despite a late push by Ohio State to make the game close again, Morton’s big day proved to be enough to keep the Huskies ahead as they won by a final score of 9-6. On the day, the outfielder tallied three hits, scoring four runs and driving in four.
Sullivan was credited with the win for his starting effort. The sophomore was credited with 5.2 innings of work, tallying two strikeouts while yielding six hits and two walks. He was responsible for two runs. Devin Kirby earned his first save of the season after working through the final three innings of the game and allowing just one run while striking out four. Ohio State’s Eckhardt drew the loss after allowing Connecticut to score six runs (four earned) over five innings.
Game three, also from Ed Smith Stadium, saw Andrew Sears draw the start for Connecticut against Josh Timmerman for Ohio State. The momentum that the UConn offense built up on Saturday carried over into Sunday as Ben Huber and Maddix Dalena each smacked a two-run homerun in the first two innings of the game, giving the Huskies an early 4-0 lead. The Buckeyes got on the board in the fifth innings following an RBI single by Kade Kern and a solo homer from Nick Erwin. The team later took a 5-4 lead in the sixth again thanks to Kern and Erwin, this time due to an RBI single by the former and a two-run single by the latter. Connecticut was quick to respond to the pushback: the team loaded the bases with one out in the seventh inning, capitalizing with three runs after a run-scoring error on a hot-shot by Huber couldn’t be handled and a two-out single by Bryan Padilla found the grass in center field, making the score 7-5 Connecticut. Each team tacked on one more run for a 8-6 final score.
Sears performed well in his first game for the Huskies since transferring from Rhode Island college. The southpaw worked through five innings of action, allowing two runs on four hits and one walk while striking out four. Fogell was credited with the win after his team went ahead for good while he was pitching in relief. Brady Afthim, Garrett Coe, and Justin Willis combined to pitch a scoreless 2.2 innings to shut the door on the ballgame, with Willis being credited for the save. For Ohio State, Timmerman was able to work through 3.1 innings before he was pulled, allowing four runs on four hits and two walks, striking out four. Tim Baird was credited with the loss in the effort.
The series concluded on Monday from Centennial Park in Port Charlotte, Florida, with Stephen Quigley drawing the start for UConn against Gavin Bruni going for the Buckeyes. Smith got Connecticut off to a fast start with a leadoff home run in the top of the first, with Huber following suit with a solo homer in the second. RBI singles by Josh McAlister and Ernst tied the game a two apiece before another run-scoring single by Kern gave Ohio State a 3-2 lead. A sacrifice fly by Morton tied the game once more for UConn in the fourth, but it was the last time the team had a shot at victory. It was all Buckeyes after the fourth inning as the team scored seven unanswered runs. With the bases loaded in the fifth, Erwin drew a run-scoring walk before Matthew Graveline turned a two-RBI double to center field, making the score 6-3 Ohio State. The team added two more in the inning due to a fielder’s choice off the bat of Hank Thomas. In the eighth, Ernst cranked yet another two-RBI hit for the Buckeyes, extending their lead to 10-3 and all but securing the convincing win. Run-scoring hits by Morton and Freeberger in the ninth cut into Ohio State’s lead, but the Huskies still lost by a final score of 10-5.
Over 3.2 innings of action, Quigley was responsible for allowing three runs on seven hits and one walk, including five strikeouts. Braden Quinn, who entered the game for Quigley in the fourth, was given the loss after he allowed three runs to score in 0.1 innings pitched. Bruni lasted 3.1 innings for Ohio State, allowing three runs (two earned) on five hits and one walk while compiling six strikeouts in the no-decision. Jonah Jenkins was impressive in an extensive relief effort as he pitched 4.2 innings and did not allow a run while striking out four after coming in for Bruni, resulting in him being credited with the win.
HookC will have a few days of rest before traveling to the West Coast as part of their daunting early-season schedule. The team will face Cal Poly on Friday, Feb. 24 at 10 p.m. before playing games against the University of California on Saturday and Sunday.