The first inning of UConn's midweek contest with the Bryant University Bulldogs was... not good.
Starter Sam Nepiarsky hit the first batter he faced and a few gappers later UConn was down 3-0 with only one out. They buckled down, however, and pulled out a 6-3 win behind eight shutout innings from the bullpen and an 11 hit performance for the Huskies' offense.
Joe Rivera (1-0) got the win while Randy Polonia picked up his fifth save of the season. Bryan Daniello got a hit in his 11th straight game, going 1-4 with a run and an RBI on a fielder's choice.
In Nepiarsky's second start of the season, but simply didn't have it today. Even when he was getting outs, they were hard-hit balls. Right fielder Connor Buckley had to make a catch against the wall on a ball that the ballpark just barely held, and all three Bulldog hits off of him were in the gap. He went 1+ innings, allowing three runs on three hits while hitting two batters.
After the quick 3-0 start and hitting the lead-off batter in the second, Nepiarsky was lifted for Jack Riley, and the bullpen did a tremendous job of picking up the slack. Riley contributed 2.2 scoreless innings, giving up just three hits.
Joe Rivera came in with one down in the fourth, bringing them all the way to the eighth and only allowing two Bulldog players to reach base. Doug Domnarski came on with no one out and a runner on first, drew a double play and struck out a batter to bring them to close out the eighth.
Randy Polonia came in after Domnarski allowed a lead-off double down the line to start the top half of the ninth, and did something pretty unusual. For three consecutive batters, he let the count get to 3-0. And for three consecutive batters, he brought it to 3-2 and got the strikeout. In all, the bullpen put in eight innings of scoreless work, scattering four hits while striking out nine with only one walk.
Meanwhile, the offense continued to break out of the funk which had bothered it last week. The Huskies have had trouble pushing runs across the plate once runners got on, but they had no such trouble today.
UConn pushed two runs across in the second on a pair of fielder's choices—one from Zac Susi and one from John Toppa—bringing the score to 3-2 after two innings.
Joe DeRoche-Duffin hit his team-leading sixth home run of the year in the bottom of the third to tie the game. On a 1-0 count, he got a pitch he liked and took Bulldogs' starter Craig Lacey deep over the left field fence. The lead-off home run would be the last pitch that Lacey threw and the Huskies broke the game open against his replacements in the following inning.
Toppa and Sundberg reached to start the next inning and Toppa was able to score on a Bryan Daniello fielder's choice. The Bulldogs tried to turn the double play, but Sundberg slid into second hard and knocked the ball out of the shortstop's glove and everyone was safe. UConn took the lead, 4-3, and never looked back.
Bobby Melley had two runners on, and hit a ball deep to left field. It stayed inside the park, but both Daniello and Sundberg were able to come across the plate to make it 6-3 Huskies. Melley was left on base, but it didn't matter as the Huskies cruised to victory behind the strong effort from the bullpen.
Next up for UConn is a conference series with Houston, with first pitch on Friday at J.O. Christian at 3 p.m., 3 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday. The Cougars won the conference regular season title last year and were chosen as the preseason favorite to win the conference this year.