It could have been a sweep. The Huskies were coming off a series win at Tulane, and had taken a midweek game from Boston College that brought them into the weekend in good spirits as they prepared for their first home series of the season.
The home opener brought a marquee pitching matchup to Storrs as Carson Cross (6-1, 1.46 ERA) went up against USF ace Jimmy Herget (5-1, 2.90 ERA). The two were the main attraction for most of the 14 scouts in attendance including representatives from the Yankees, Reds, and Twins.
The game started as the pitchers duel it was billed to be, and the Huskies got on the board first with an RBI single from Blake Davey. USF took a 2-1 lead heading into the sixth when the UConn bats heated up and put up five runs on Herget, driving him from the game.
Cross held up his end of the bargain, going 7 1/3 innings giving up three runs (one earned) on four hits and a walk while striking out three. He retired the only batter he faced in the eighth, and gave the ball to Pat Ruotolo with a five run lead.
Ruotolo picked up where Cross left off and struck out the first hitter he faced before the wheels fell off. A walk and two singles brought a run in and allowed USF's five hitter Buddy Putnam to come to the plate representing the go-ahead run. Putnam put a big swing on a Ruotolo pitch and deposited it just over the right field fence to give the Bulls the lead, 7-6.
South Florida tacked on two more in the top of the ninth to make it 9-6, and the Huskies were able to bring the tying run to the plate in the bottom half of the ninth with two outs, but Jon Testani struck out on three pitches. Game over.
Due to the weather, the second game of the series was moved from Storrs to the New England Baseball Complex in Northborough, Mass., where the Huskies had beaten Boston College earlier in the week.
The Huskies (who are now 7-1 in games played at neutral sites) didn't mind having to take another trip away from J.O. Christian Field and beat the Bulls convincingly, 7-0.
The middle of the UConn order did most of the damage with Bobby Melley going 4-5 from the plate with a double and two RBI, and Davey going 2-5 with two RBI. Testani also had two RBI from the nine spot in the order with a fifth inning home run that made it 6-0.
The run support was more than starter Anthony Kay (4-3) required. After walking three in the first two innings, Kay found is groove and pitched 6 1/3 scoreless innings while lowering his ERA to 1.17.
Penders was pleased with the way Kay bounced back early.
"After a couple rocky innings Anthony adjusted and did a really really good job pitching," Penders said. "He was a little emotional in the first and second innings and was missing his spots."
Penders also became the second UConn coach to compare one of his players to a Ferrari.
"When he has that full tank of gas it's like a Ferrari, you want to let it out a little bit and stay in the middle lane," Penders said. "It's tough to harness it."
The rubber match of the series had the teams travel back to Storrs, and they played a game that had a similar feel to game one.
Once again the Huskies struck first with a Joe Deroche-Duffin RBI groundout to second and saw the offense put up a crooked number, this time in the fourth inning, to push the lead to 4-0.
Once again Ruotolo was handed the ball in the 8th inning, this time with two outs, and he was able to strike out Kyle Teaf to end the inning. But the wheels fell off in the ninth as the Bulls rode three hits and two errors into four runs and a series victory.
What It Means
This shouldn't affect UConn very much. This is a resilient team and a couple tough losses will not hamper them like it may have last year. USF now leads the AAC with a 5-1 record, and the Huskies drop to fourth (out of eight) but should feel confident knowing it could easily be the other way around.
The starters are still pitching very well, the offense is still hitting well, and the bullpen for the most part has gotten the job done. While Ruotolo had a tough weekend, he will still be getting the ball in late game situations and will be effective.
The Huskies RPI currently sits at 37th in the nation according to warrennolan.com, so the team is very much in the driver's seat as far as setting themselves up for an at-large bid, which is helped by the overall strength of the conference.
UConn has midweek games at home against Northeastern (11-17) on Tuesday at 3:00 p.m. and Hartford (8-14) on Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. before traveling to Orlando for a weekend series against UCF (23-10, 3-3 AAC).