Over the past seven days, the UConn baseball team has experienced a series of ups and downs, ranging from three comeback wins against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights to a loss against the No. 14 Boston College Eagles after entering the D1Baseball rankings. Following that defeat and a 17-1 trouncing of the Hartford Hawks the next day, the Hook C turns their attention to another high-scoring opponent as they wrap up their nine-game homestand with a three-game series against the UMBC Retrievers.
The Huskies (17-6) thrive behind their offense, which scored 10 runs in the first inning and seven in the fifth against Hartford on March 29. Their 183 runs scored and 167 runs batted in both lead the Big East conference, with Big East Weekly Honor Roll selection Dominic Freeberger contributing the most in the latter category. The graduate transfer from UNC-Asheville has done it all at the plate, batting .366 with 28 RBIs on 34 hits, five of which have left the yard. Freeberger has also touched home plate 23 times, good for third on the team behind Jake Studley and David Smith.
A graduate transfer from Wheaton College, Studley is batting .345 with 29 hits, two home runs and 18 RBIs while legging out two triples. Both hitters use their bats to get on base, but Smith’s speed has been his offensive calling card. Batting at the top of the order, four out of the team captain’s 24 hits have left the park while his six doubles are tied for second on the team. Only Ben Huber stands ahead of both Smith and Freeberger when it comes to extra-base hits and doubles.
With a two-run shot in the bottom of the first against the Hawks, Huber has five home runs and 25 RBIs to his name while posting a .348 batting average and a 1.140 OPS. The graduate slugger shares the team lead in home runs with Luke Broadhurst, who is batting .294 with 18 RBIs and a 1.025 OPS. Combine that all together, and UConn’s heart of the batting order can do some serious damage at the plate.
With Stephen Quigley starting Tuesday’s loss against Boston College, expect the Hook C to run with the same three starters they used last weekend. Expect Ian Cooke to take the bump to kick off the series on Friday night, followed by Andrew Sears in the second game and Jack Sullivan to wrap up the series. Cooke has taken the nod for every series opener, posting a 2-2 record with a 4.91 ERA and a team-leading 37 strikeouts.
While the sophomore from New Milford looks to build off his previous outing, one where he went 5.2 innings, Sears hopes to go further in his next start. The lefty from Rhode Island College went three innings in the second game of the doubleheader and currently holds a 5.85 ERA with 18 strikeouts. If the rotation stays as is, Sullivan closes out the weekend for the fourth consecutive series as he hopes to lower his 4.97 ERA and add to his 20 strikeouts with another dominant outing.
UMBC (11-9, 3-3 America East) most recently played in Oriole Park at Camden Yards against the Navy Midshipmen, beating them 8-1 behind a five-run second inning. Before that midweek showdown at Camden Yards, the Retrievers swept the Albany Great Danes in New York by scoring 10 runs or more in every game of the series. Projected to finish sixth out of seven teams in the America East preseason rankings, UMBC looks to continue producing at the plate against tough competition.
Like the Huskies, the Retrievers lead their league in runs scored and runs batted in, setting the stage for three high-scoring battles over the weekend. Two-time America East Rookie of the Week Leewood Molessa has made an immediate impact for UMBC, leading the team in every major statistical category except batting average as a freshman with a 1.132 OPS, seven homers, 30 hits and 34 RBIs.
Only Ian Diaz, a graduate student, sees the ball better than Molessa as he bats .362 with 25 hits in 69 at-bats, seven doubles and 15 RBIs. Sandwiched between those two at the top of the starting lineup is Justin Taylor, who is one of three speedsters that can cause trouble on the basepaths. In addition to Taylor, Matt Ryan and Christian Easley combine for half of the Retrievers’ 18 steals while making up 11 out of their 28 attempts.
UMBC will likely go with the same three-headed rotation they used in the Empire State, all of whom went exactly five innings in their outing last weekend. Luke Johnson leads the team in most pitching categories, going 2-0 with a 3.00 ERA and 37 strikeouts in 30 innings. The junior righthander has not won Pitcher of the Week or made the America East Weekly Honor Roll this season, but a dominant outing in Storrs will put Johnson into consideration to take one home.
Nick Remy has the most starts on the team with six, but his 6.84 ERA should not fool anyone as he has recorded over half of his strikeouts in two of his last three appearances. Remy also struck out four in three innings against the Maine Black Bears on March 18, so expect the sophomore righty to cause trouble for the Hook C’s bats. Jayden Shertel closes out the rotation, and although he only has 14 strikeouts and 23.2 innings to his name, the sophomore southpaw is a durable pitcher that can string together strong outings on any given day.
First pitch is scheduled for 12:05 p.m. EDT for the series opener at Elliot Ballpark, 2:05 p.m. (although that is subject to change) at Dunkin’ Park on April 1 and 1:05 p.m. back at the Doug on April 2. Friday’s contest airs on UConn+ while fans can catch Sunday’s battle on the CW.