Clutch hitting and shutdown pitching was the defining factor this Easter weekend for the Connecticut Huskies. UConn, playing in its fifth Big East series, swept the St. John’s University Red Storm in three close contests.
Game one ended with a 2-1 UConn victory. UConn fell early when starter Hope Jenkins gave up a first inning home run to shortstop London Jarrard, just the second hitter of the game. From that point on, Hope Jenkins dominated. The freshman struck out six of the next 19 batters she faced including a second inning in which she struck out the side. St. John’s would get a hit in the third with a leadoff single from right fielder Maeve Marra, but that was their last for the day. UConn tied the game up in the second inning. Walks by both Taylor Zatyk and Savannah Ring set up Lexi Hastings with a chance to put the Huskies in the scoring column, and she delivered. With a single to second, Zatyk came in to score tying the game. Ring would have her moment later in the game as she came to the plate in the bottom half of the sixth. On a 1-1 count with the bases empty, Ring blasted the pitch to left center field to put UConn on top. Pitcher Megan O’Neil came in to close the door on St. John’s in the seventh, earning her fourth save in 2023. With the win, Hope Jenkins improved her record to 10-2, her fourth straight win. Right fielder Hastings had three hits in the game to lead the team, while Ring’s go-ahead home run marked the first of her collegiate career.
Game two finished with the same outcome, but the way it happened was different. UConn took the lead first in this matchup when Rosie Garcia tripled down the right field line to score Hastings and Grace Jenkins, putting UConn up 2-0. An error by center fielder Aziah James allowed St. John’s Sydney Totarsky to come in and score to bring the score to 2-1 in the second, but that’s all the scoring in this game. Defense played a huge role in the win for UConn who had numerous highlight reel plays. Right fielder Makenzie Mason brought one back in the top of the fourth to preserve the lead for Connecticut. An inning later, shortstop Jana Sanden made a diving stop over the bag and completed the throw to first for the out. Mason, now in left field, made yet another spectacular catch in the outfield with runners on to prevent a scoring opportunity again for the Red Storm. Things would get interesting in the top of the seventh when Peyton Cody doubled with two outs, but the Huskies were able to maintain the lead. Payton Kinney started for Connecticut, picking up her ninth victory of the season with four innings pitched and an unearned run. O’Neil secured her fifth save with three innings of her own allowing no runs on three hits. St. John’s pitcher Hannah Mearns pitched the complete game striking out five and walking five with two earned runs on the afternoon. With the win, head coach Laura Valentino earned her 100th career win with the program.
Sunday marked the end of the series and gave UConn the opportunity for the series sweep. The Huskies started off strong with their first four batters all reaching base. A Grace Jenkins single and a Sanden double plated the first two runs of the day for the Huskies. Pitcher Hope Jenkins hit a sacrifice fly later in the inning to cap off what was a three run first for Connecticut. Totarsky answered for St. John’s, planting a deep blast to left center field to bring the score to 3-1. Base stealing has been the difference maker for UConn all season long and it paid dividends for the team on Sunday afternoon. Connecticut’s leading base stealer and center fielder, James, singled to lead off the third. A swipe of second by James put a runner in scoring position for catcher Grace Jenkins, who hit a ground ball to second that was just enough to bring around the speedy James, extending the lead to 4-1. Hope Jenkins pitched the complete game to earn her second win of the weekend, increasing her win total to 11 on the year. Her eight strikeouts against St. John’s breaks her season high of seven on which she had on three separate occasions. With a hit in every game this weekend, Hastings extended her hit streak to nine consecutive games.
Connecticut continues their scheduled mid-week matchup against Massachusetts schools with a game on Tuesday against Boston College (18-19) at Chestnut Hill. UConn holds the all-time record against the Eagles at 46-20, including wins in their last four meetings and will come in riding an eight-game win streak. St. John’s returns home and faces off against in-state Fordham University (13-19) for their second meeting of the season. The Red Storm won 9-0 in five innings in March and hope to repeat that outcome on Tuesday.