In baseball, there’s a difference between winning a ballgame handley versus winning a ballgame as a result of a late-game rally: while any victory is sweet, the excitement that comes from a come-from-behind win can simply not be topped. After splitting the first two games of their three-game weekend series, the No. 20 University of Connecticut baseball team felt the latter after scoring four runs in the ninth inning to stun the Xavier Musketeers, college baseball’s hottest team, to claim the series win.
Action took place from the Musketeers’ home stadium in Hayden Field, located in Cincinnati, Ohio. The first game of the series took place on Friday afternoon under cloudy skies, though the temperature was more than good enough for baseball at a cool 80 degrees. It was the Huskies who struck first in the contest after a solo home run by Luke Broadhurst in the top of the second, though Xavier came rushing back thanks to a three-run shot from Alex Helmin. Connecticut tied the game at three-all in the top of the fifth after a David Smith double and a Dominic Freeberger sacrifice sly scored Matt Garbowski and Bryan Padilla. The game was tied for just a moment, as Xavier responded in the bottom of the frame with three more runs: Jack Housinger smacked a solo shot before Jared Cushing drove in Tyler DeMartino and Matthew DePrey to give the Musketeers a 6-3 advantage through five frames.
Trailing by three runs, the Hook C offense flexed their muscle to come storming back and retake the lead in the latter innings of the contest. Broadhurst continued his recent hot stretch with his second homer of the game in the top of the sixth, this one coming with Jake Studley on base to bring Connecticut back to within one run of the Musketeers. The comeback continued when Ben “Albino Rhino” Huber joined the home run party with a solo homer in the top of the seventh, tying the game at six-apiece, with Studley going deep himself one batter later to give Connecticut the lead at 7-6. The Hook C bullpen held Xavier in check over the final three innings to win the series opener.
Andrew Sears drew the start for the Huskies and was challenged with slowing down a red-hot Musketeers offense. In 4.1 innings of work, the lefty allowed six runs (four earned) on five hits and three walks while striking out seven batters. Devin Kirby received the win after entering the contest in relief of Sears, hurling two innings without allowing a run. The trio of Thomas Ellisen, Zach Fogell and Justin Willis all combined to record scoreless efforts to close the contest, with Willis receiving his sixth save of the season. Justin Loer was credited with the loss after allowing Connecticut to go ahead for good via the Huber and Studley home runs.
Game two took place on Saturday, and was the first game of a doubleheader to close out the series. Under similar conditions as the day prior, the Xavier offense put on a clinic versus the Huskies as the team scored 18 total runs and managed to score in every inning that they batted except for one. The Musketeers got to work immediately after Hosuinger led off the bottom of the first with a home run before DeMartino brought in another run via an RBI groundout. A two-run homer by Matt McCormick gave Xavier a 4-0 lead at the end of the first. Padilla helped the Huskies cut into the deficit with a two-run bomb in the second, but the Musketeers had an answer in the form of a solo homer by Grant Stephenson in the bottom of the frame to make the score 5-2. The Hook C managed to tie the score at five-all in the third after a Smith RBI double and an Albino Rhino two-run bomb. However, the Musketeers offense went absolutely ballistic in the frame: a DeMartino home run, Helmin triple, Housinger single and Andrew Walker double all brought in one run each, and the inning was capped off when DeMartino returned to the plate to single two more in and give Xavier a commanding 11-5 lead.
Despite the deficit, the UConn offense continued to make the Musketeer pitchers work hard to get through the contest. In the top of the sixth, Padilla came around to score on a fielder’s choice that allowed Korey Morton to reach base, and he scored when Smith smashed another homer later in the frame to make things interesting again at 11-8 Xavier. However, the rest of the game was all Musketeers as the team managed to score seven unanswered runs versus the UConn pitching staff. The team scored one run in the sixth, four in the seventh and two in the eighth, with the final two runs coming via a two-run bomb off the bat of Walker. When the last out was recorded, the Musketeers had managed an impressive beatdown of their Big East rival as the scoreboard read a final of 18-8.
Five Huskies came into the contest to pitch and all five allowed at least two runs to score. Garrett Coe ultimately received the loss after allowing three runs to score in the third inning. Nick Boyle was credited with the win for the Musketeers after coming in for starter Brant Alazaus in the third inning and working through the fifth; in 2.1 innings, the right-hander yielded two earned runs and walked three, but his team’s offensive onslaught was enough to hide his underwhelming relief effort and allow Boyle to earn the win.
With each team claiming a win over the series’ first two games, a series winner would be decided following the outcome of the second half of Saturday’s doubleheader. Each team exchanged blows in the finale, and as a result, the game was decided by fireworks in the later frames. UConn got off to the early lead thanks to a two-run double in the top of the second from Garbowski, but Xavier responded in the bottom of the frame with an RBI single from Carter Hendrickson and a three-run bomb from Cushing to make the score 4-2 Xavier. With two runners aboard in the top of the third, Huber cranked yet another long ball to bring three more runs home and regain the lead for the Hook C at 5-4, but (stop me if you’ve heard this before) the Musketeers had yet another answer in the bottom of the frame; an RBI single by Hendrickson re-tied the score at five-all. The fifth inning was much of the same, with UConn going ahead by one run after Smith scored on a wild pitch, though a DeMartino solo shot in the bottom of the inning once again tied the game, this time at 6-6.
In the top of the sixth, Connecticut regained the lead thanks to a run-scoring double to center off the bat of Freeberger, though Xavier managed to flip the script and gain the lead for themselves after a two-run homer by McCormick and a solo shot from Stephen in the seventh and eighth brought the score to 9-7 Musketeers. However, when it looked like the Huskies may have had their last life taken from them, they rallied in the top of the ninth to spice things up once more. Freeberger singled to begin the frame to give the Huskies life, and as if on queue, Studley whacked a home run to left field to score Freeberger and tie the game at 9-9. The next batter, Broadhurst, followed with another single to put the go-ahead run on base for Connecticut and the Huskies were quick to take advantage: Daniels turned around a home run of his own to score two more for the Hook C and give the team a 11-9 lead in the ninth, stunning the Musketeers after what seemed to be a surefire victory for the home team. The score was made final after the final nail was put into the Xavier coffin in the bottom of the ninth.
After Connecticut’s first three pitchers allowed nine runs to cross the plate over 7.1 innings, Fogell came into the game and shut down the Musketeers offense over the final 1.2 innings en route to his fourth win of the season. Clay Schwaner, meanwhile, received the loss for Xavier after allowing five earned runs to score over 3.2 innings in relief.
After the series win, Connecticut now sits at 26-9, including a solid 13-6 mark in road games. In the meantime, Xavier drops to 22-14 and suffers their first two losses after winning 11 consecutive games beginning back on March 26. Both teams have gone 4-2 in Big East play in the early going of the season, tied with each other and Seton Hall and each other for the top record in the conference.
The Hook C’s next opponents will come in the form of two midweek contests when Northeastern University visits Storrs on Tuesday before the team travels to Massachusetts to take on Boston College on Wednesday. Tuesday’s first pitch is scheduled for 6:05 p.m. from Elliot Ballpark in Storrs, and fans can watch the game live via UConn+. Wednesday’s away contest will be played from Alumni Stadium in Brighton, Massachusetts with a scheduled first pitch of 5:30 p.m. Fans can tune into the live audio of both games via MIXLR.