Baseball: Hook C hosts UMass Amherst in home opener


Originally scheduled for March 7 against the Hartford Hawks, the UConn baseball team returns to the Nutmeg for their home opener at Elliot Ballpark. After traveling almost 11,000 miles between playing in Florida and on the West Coast, the Hook C faces an opponent approximately 50 miles away from Storrs as they host the UMass Amherst Minutemen on Wednesday afternoon. Because of the way the schedule fell, this is the first of nine straight home games for Connecticut. After splitting each of their first two regular season series, the Huskies have won nine out of their last 11 games and are playing like one of the hottest teams in the nation. 

Part of the reason UConn has seen success over their last three-weekend series is because of their bats. Each of the Hook C’s last six wins have been by 10 or more runs, and team captain David Smith has lit a spark from the leadoff spot. With two homers in the series finale against the San Diego State Aztecs on March 18, Smith leads the team with four homers and 11 stolen bases while posting an .826 OPS. Korey Morton is just as lethal on the basepaths with five stolen bases, a triple and four doubles. 

Speed from the outfielders has been a key ingredient in the team’s successful formula, but so has the power that Ben Huber and Luke Broadhurst bring in the middle of the lineup. Primarily used as a designated hitter, Broadhurst has three homers and a .950 OPS in 50 at-bats. Huber, a Big East Weekly Honor Roll selection, is an extra-base machine, smacking 11 doubles to go along with his three home runs and 18 runs batted in. Huber is tied for the team lead in runs brought home with Dominic Freeberger, who has been an impact player after transferring from UNC Asheville and already has 25 base knocks. 

The pitching staff has played a pivotal role in limiting the opposition on a game-by-game basis. Given that the Huskies are coming off a four-game series and playing in their first midweek game of the year, the starting pitcher will be someone the team uses as a long reliever. Righty Thomas Ellisen is the only pitcher who has not made at least two starts, and although he allowed three unearned runs in two innings on Saturday, the redshirt freshman strikes out hitters in bunches. 

If he does not take the bump, then expect either Michael Quigley or Jude Abbadessa to get the nod for the first time in a UConn uniform. Quigley, who transferred from UMass Lowell, last pitched on March 12 against the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, recording one strikeout. Despite his limited appearances, making the midweek start could set him up to follow in his older brother, Stephen’s, footsteps and join the rotation. Abbadessa, a freshman from Endicott, New York, has made four scoreless relief appearances without allowing a run in his young collegiate career. During his time at Union Endicott High School, the righty struck out 187 batters and tossed two perfect games. 

UMass Amherst (3-7 as of 6 p.m. Tuesday) enters after playing the Holy Cross Crusaders in Worcester, Massachusetts. Prior to that midweek contest, the Minutemen dropped two out of three games against the Penn Quakers in Philadelphia. The win in the series opener ended a five-game losing streak for Massachusetts-Amherst, who have yet to play a game in Amherst this season. 

The entire UMass Amherst offense bats .223 through 10 games, but they have two sluggers that hit for average in the middle of their lineup. Steve Luttazi is having a hot start to the season as he leads the team with a .348 batting average despite having recorded just eight hits. While the graduate student capitalizes when it comes to getting on base, Carter Hanson brings the boom at the plate. The sophomore outfielder, who is on a three-game hitting streak, has a knack for big hits as he leads the team with two home runs and eight runs batted in while posting a .545 slugging percentage and a .940 OPS. 

Nolan Tichy has one more hit than Hanson in five more trips to the plate, but Zack Zaetta knows how to zip around the basepaths, especially after making contact with the ball. Beyond his two stolen bases and .400 on base percentage, the sophomore shortstop has one double and both of the team’s triples as he has thrived at the leadoff position. Despite giving up more runs than they have scored, the Minutemen can be a tough out at the plate against any pitcher they face. 

When it comes to UMass Amherst’s pitching staff, there is a lot of inconsistency after their right-handed ace, Taylor Perrett. The graduate student from Denison University started over the weekend alongside Dylan Terwilliger and Max LeBlanc against the Quakers, but they are just three of six different UMass pitchers who have taken the bump to start the game as the team figures out their official rotation. That leaves three hurlers who could be given the nod against the Hook C, two of whom have an ERA over 5.00. 

Starting with the pitcher who has not surrendered a run, Jackson Harrigan last pitched on March 17, allowing one runner on base while recording four outs. The Bryant University transfer has pitched twice over the last seven days, but Jack Steele has not taken the mound in over two weeks. Last pitching against the Navy Midshipmen on March 4, Steele allowed two runs on one hit despite striking out four batters in 2.1 innings of work. Since Steele’s last appearance, Tyler Dalton has taken the mound three times, but has allowed at least six runs in each of his outings. While all but six of those runs were earned, the graduate righthander has five punchouts to his name. 

First pitch is scheduled for 3:05 p.m. on UConn+ and MIXLR Radio. 

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