In a weekend series against the UMBC Retrievers, the No. 19 UConn baseball team scored 31 runs as they shut down the America East Conference’s then most productive offensive team. Scoring 11 runs in each of the final two games of the three-game set, UConn’s offense exceeded that number against the Columbia Lions in just two innings. Once the pitching faltered, however, the offense followed suit, scoring two runs in the final seven innings as the Huskies came up short in the midweek matchup in Manhattan 19-14.
Ben Huber got the scoring started for the Hook C in the first inning, scoring on a sacrifice fly with two runners in scoring position before Dominic Freeberger touched home plate on a wild pitch two batters later. Once Ryan Daniels knocked Thomas Santana out of the game by walking on four straight pitches in the top of the second, the wheels started to come off for Columbia as Connecticut’s offense erupted. After zipping around the basepaths via a stolen base and a wild pitch, Daniels scored when David Smith worked a bases-loaded walk and Freeberger followed suit with a two-run single. Huber knocked reliever Jagger Edwards out of the game with a four-pitch walk and Jake Studley brought in a run on the sacrifice fly for a six-run advantage, but Korey Morton cracked the game wide open.
On a 2-0 count, the junior outfielder walloped a baseball well beyond the bullpen in left-center field for his fifth home run and second grand slam of the season. Bryan Padilla capped off the 10-run frame with a two-run shot on a 0-2 count that also landed in left centerfield not long after Daniels got on base for the second time in the frame. Stephen Quigley worked around a leadoff double in the bottom of the first, but did not escape the bottom of the second unscathed as the Lions loaded the bases on three straight singles with two outs before Griffin Palfrey whacked a two-run single.
UConn got a run back in the top of the third as Morton brought a run in on a fielder’s choice with the bases loaded, but Columbia answered with one swing of the bat. Facing a 2-2 count with two down in the frame, Cole Hage’s hit barely got over the outfield wall and Smith’s glove for a three-run big fly to cut the deficit to single digits. The Huskies added another run in the top of the fourth as Huber recorded another sacrifice fly, but everything fell apart in the bottom half as the Lions’ offense roared ahead.
Palfrey got the rally started with a double to right center, and Andy Blake singled off of Thomas Ellisen to bring him in two pitches later. After Hayden Schott walked on a full count, Weston Eberly doubled home Blake before reaching third base as Schott scored on a wild pitch. Ivy League Player of the Week Seth Dardar knocked Ellisen out of the game, and although Garrett Coe got Anton Lazits to fly out to Morton, Hage did further damage at the plate. Facing an 0-1 count, the junior leftfielder took the junior southpaw deep to cut the lead in half with his second three-run homer of the game.
Columbia did not stop there, as a single and a hit by pitch took Coe out of the contest. Palfrey singled in a run on Devin Kirby’s first pitch, and Blake gave the Lions their first lead of the day as the senior shortstop sent the payoff pitch to dead center for the team’s third three-run jack of the afternoon. Kirby recorded the last two outs of the frame on five pitches, but the damage had been done as Columbia scored 10 runs for their second double-digit run inning of the season. The Hook C threatened in the top of the fifth with two runners in scoring position, but after Smith grounded into an inning-ending double play, the Lions made them pay twice as Skye Selinsky laced an RBI triple to deep right field and Jack Kail singled him home.
The Huskies kept threatening, getting runners on third in the sixth and eighth innings, but they did not score a run either time as Columbia’s bullpen shut down the chance with a lineout and two strikeouts. Sandwiched between those opportunities, Dardar smacked his sixth homer of the season well beyond the batting eye to extend the Lions’ lead to four. Blake went yard for the sixth time himself the following inning, taking Brady Afthim deep on the first pitch of the frame before Zach Fogell recorded two strikeouts in relief. Senior Justin Tucker closed the door in the ninth as Columbia garnered their third ranked win of the year, their first since taking two of three against the then No. 18 Alabama Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa in early March.
With no pitcher throwing more than two innings for the Lions, whose last four relievers surrendered a combined three hits and recorded three of the team’s four strikeouts, James Vaughn earned his second win of the year while allowing one run on one hit with two walks. In his start, Santana allowed three runs on two hits against seven batters in over an inning of work. Kirby took his first loss of the season after allowing five runs on seven hits in three innings despite throwing four strikeouts. Quigley went 2.2 innings, allowing five runs on seven hits with a walk and a punchout.
The Hook C (20-7) stays in the Big Apple to kick off Big East play as they visit the St. John’s Red Storm in Queens. UConn begins their three-game set on Thursday, April 6, at 6 p.m. and wraps up the series two days later with a doubleheader starting at 1 p.m. All three games will be broadcast via MIXLR.