After dominating their out-of-conference opponents over the first few weeks of the new season, the No. 19 University of Connecticut baseball team carried their hot start over into their first Big East series, taking two of three against the St. John’s Red Storm over the course of Thursday and Saturday.
Action took place from Jack Kaiser Stadium in Queens, New York on Thursday afternoon, with cloudy skies engulfing the diamond. Much like the gray, unconvincing skies, the HookC offense played with little energy through the first six innings, having found themselves down 3-0. The Huskies got off to their fist rally of the day when a dropped third strike, stolen base and a walk put runners on the corners with no outs in the top of the seventh. Ryan Daniels singled home a run and advanced the second on the throw, making it runners on second and third with still no outs and the score now 3-1. Matt Garbowski and David Smith followed with consecutive singles of their own to drive in those two runners, tying the game at three apiece. A sacrifice fly by Ben Huber and a wild pitch allowed Garbowski and Smith to scamper home to give UConn its first lead of the day at 5-3. Though the Red Storm responded in the bottom of the eighth with a run to make things interesting again at 5-4, a two-run smash by Huber in the top of the ninth added two key insurance runs and all but cemented the 7-5 victory for Connecticut.
Ace Ian Cooke was given the starting assignment for Thursday’s opener and wasn’t his typical dominant self. Over four innings of work, the big righty allowed three runs on three hits and one walk while striking out four. He was a bit wild, throwing a wild pitch and hitting two batters before being pulled from the game. Michael Quigley was effective in relief, not allowing a run in 1.1 innings after coming in for Cooke. Zach Fogell was ultimately credited with his third win of the year after coming in for Quigley, as he managed 1.2 innings while yielding just one run on two hits with three strikeouts. Justin Willis closed the door on St. John’s and received the save, his fifth of the year, after locking down the final 1.2 innings of the game.
The two teams were off on Friday before concluding the three game set with a doubleheader on Saturday. The first game was played at 1 p.m. under sunny conditions, and was a back-and-forth affair until Connecticut was able to pull ahead in the later innings. The HookC scored runs in the second and third innings thanks to an RBI groundout by Paul Tammaro and a sacrifice fly by Dominic Freeberger to give them an early 2-0 lead, though the Red Storm came rumbling back thanks to a two-run homer by Austin Machado. A solo homer run by Korey Morton allowed UConn to take the lead again in the fifth, but an RBI hit by Aaron Mann once again tied the score in the bottom of the sixth at three-all. Connecticut took the lead on a Jake Studley double in the top of the eight to make the score 4-3, but the offense wasn’t done adding insurance runs. In the top of the ninth with two runners on and one out, St. John’s intentionally walked Huber to load the bases and bring Studley back up to the dish. The walk proved a massive mistake, as Studley cashed in one another RBI hit to elevate his team’s lead to 5-3. Luke Broadhurst followed with a sacrifice fly before a two-RBI single by Bryan Padilla put the game out of reach at 8-3, which was the final score at the end of action.
Andrew Sears got the nod for the Hook and was effective through 5.1 innings. He allowed three runs to score on just two hits, striking out the eighth Red Storm along the way. Devin Kirby was the first pitcher to enter the game in relief and received the win for his effort on the bump. In total, he tallied 1.2 innings of work and did not allow a run to score. Fogell and Brady Afthim each contributed scoreless frames to close the door on the contest.
Following a brief intermission, the second game of the doubleheader commenced at 4:25 p.m. as the weather turned from sunny back to cloudy. Studley continued his hot performance from the last game as he provided his team’s first two runs, doubling home Freeberger in the first before swatting a sacrifice fly in the second to give UConn an early 2-0 lead. St. John’s came rumbling back with a rally of their own in the bottom of the third, when a David Glancy double chased home the Red Storm’s first run and a Machado single brought in two more to give their team the 3-2 advantage. A Luke Orbon single upped the St. John’s lead to 4-2, though Studley had other things in mind as he whacked a two-run homer to left-center to re-tie the game at four-all in the top of the fifth.
St. John’s came right back in the bottom of the frame when Anthony Brienza singled two more runs home to make it 6-4, but the Huskies refused to go away. Freeberger and Huber smashed home runs in back-to-back batters, with Freeberger’s coming with a runner on base, to regain the lead for the Huskies at 7-6. However, it was all Red Storm over the last three innings. In the bottom of the sixth, Orbon singled another run home to tie the game at 7-7, and the team took the lead the next inning on a sacrifice fly by Marty Higgins. A run-scoring double by Mann in the bottom of the eighth added an important insurance run and made the score 9-7 Red Storm, which was the score when the final out was recorded.
After St. John’s first two pitchers allowed six runs over the game’s first six innings, Ben Adams received the win in relief as he managed 1.1 innings of work and allowed one run to score. Nick Cirelli received his four saves of the season after nailing down the final two innings for the home team. Jack Sullivan started for UConn and allowed four runs over three innings, while Garrett Coe was credited for his first loss of the season after allowing one run to score in 0.1 innings.
Following the series win against the Red Storm, the Huskies now stand at a solid 22-8 through the first 30 games of the season. They are now 2-1 in Big East play following their first conference series of the season and are tied for the second-best mark in the conference in the early portion of the season (a Xavier sweep of Butler has the team in first place at 3-0). However, Connecticut has the highest win percentage of all of the Big East teams in terms of overall schedule (.733) and figures to be near the top of the conference standings over the remainder of the campaign.
The HookC’s next challenger will come in the form of the Central Connecticut State Blue Devils as the team welcomes another opponent from outside of the conference. Action between the two Connecticut teams will take place from Dunkin’ Donuts Park in Hartford, Connecticut on Monday. First pitch is scheduled for 4:05 p.m., and fans can tune into the live audio broadcast with either MIXLR or channel 97.9 ESPN Hartford.