As the academic year at UConn comes to a close with this weekend’s commencement festivities, there’s still baseball to be played. Students will gather to receive their diplomas in Gampel Pavilion while the Huskies will be in the midst of the last series to ever be played at J.O. Christian Field, when the Bulls of USF come to town.
For the last 51 seasons, the high school lookalike ball field, named after former UConn coach and athletic director J.O. Christian, has been the home of UConn baseball. The likes of George Springer, Matt Barnes, Nick Ahmed, Anthony Kay and current ace Mason Feole have all dominated the same diamond that will soon be replaced. Elliot Ballpark, named after program alum Doug Elliot, is set to open next season just across the street. But for now, the “JOC” remains home.
The Huskies have given their longtime home a nice farewell tour, accumulating a current record of 29-19 overall, with an 11-5 mark in games played in Storrs and Dunkin Donuts Park in Hartford. The majority of those wins have come from the Huskies’ midweek slate, beating the likes of Hartford, Boston College, Northeastern, CCSU and Rhode Island. The Huskies have won just two conference series on their home turf, with wins against Memphis and, most recently, Wichita State.
Overall, UConn sits at 9-9 in American Athletic Conference play, a line that will need some improvement if the NCAA Tournament is in store for the 2019 squad. Back-to-back road series wins to open conference play, taking two-of-three from Houston and UCF, set the Huskies up as a threat in the league. However, a home series loss to Cincinnati and a sweep on a road trip to ECU set the Huskies back to fifth in the conference.
The top of the UConn lineup has led the way for an offense that has struggled to hit with runners in scoring position of late. Senior outfielder Michael Woodworth has the top batting average on the team (.353) and has touched nine more total bases (91) than the next guy. Senior John Toppa became the 20th Husky to reach the 200-career hits milestone in the same weekend shortstop Anthony Prato, whose .450 on-base percentage is top on the team, saw his 41-game on-base streak come to an end. The usual clean-up hitter, Christian Fedko, leads the team in RBIs with 38. Christian and his younger brother Kyler make up the team’s second pair of brothers along with Chris and Pat Winkel.
Mason Feole accumulated numerous preseason accolades, tabbed for conference Preseason Pitcher of the Year and was slated to be an All-American for the second-consecutive season. An unfortunate preseason injury delayed his season debut, and the junior southpaw had not been himself until a seven-inning, 10-strikeout performance to open the Wichita State series.
Jacob Wallace, whose fastball has all the attention of pro-scouts, has dominated in the late going with 11 saves with only one blown opportunity. Redshirt freshman Caleb Wurster has been deemed a “God-send” by his head coach as his consistency has earned him a niche in the bullpen alongside redshirt senior C.J. Dandeneau.
The Huskies still have hope to be named to the field of 64, in part to their top-30 rank in RPI, a metric that considers record and strength of schedule and is a valued tool for the selection committee. A strong out-of-conference performance has boosted this ranking. Though they most recently lost to Sam Houston State on the road, UConn began the year with an impressive series victory over No. 4 Louisville. Even with some losses scattered amongst the 21-game season opening road trip, the Huskies capitalized on some opportunities with a win over No. 25 Illinois and a four-game sweep over Michigan State.
There are still enough conference games remaining for Jim Penders’ staff and the Huskies to make a real push for the playoffs. After the upcoming USF series, the Huskies hit the road for their final four regular season games. Following a quick trip to URI, UConn will head to New Orleans for three games with Tulane.
After that? All the teams in The American will take part in the conference tournament in Clearwater, Florida at the Philadelphia Phillies’ spring training facility from May 21 to the 26. Any baseball after that will come via a decision by the tournament committee. The selection show is scheduled for noon on Monday, May 27 on ESPNU.
Kevin Arnold is the associate sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.