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UConn Baseball Weekend Preview: UCF

The Huskies need to get back on track in conference play against the Knights.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn Baseball started off strong in American Athletic Conference play, sweeping both East Carolina and Memphis to start off conference play 6-0.

The Huskies earned a No. 25 ranking in the Baseball America poll and votes in both the NCBWA and USA Today Coaches’ polls. They had won 10 of their last 12 contests and were flying high.

But things came crashing back to Earth with a four-game losing streak where they struggled to score runs, coming to a head last weekend when the Huskies were swept by Tulane.

In Thursday’s series opener, UConn left 11 men on base and notched only four hits on Friday. The Huskies scored five runs on 11 hits in the series finale, but lost in 12 innings.

UConn earned a walk-off win on Monday against Quinnipiac and seemingly left their offensive woes behind them with a seven-run seventh inning in an 11-3 win against UMass on Tuesday.

The Huskies need to keep the offense rolling as they will close out the first half of the conference portion of their schedule against UCF (27-11, 5-4).

The Knights are a bit of an enigma. They played a top-heavy non-conference schedule, with two-game sets against both Florida and Florida State but went 1-3 against the two schools. According to Warren Nolan, they are just 3-7 against the RPI Top 50 but have beaten the teams they are supposed to beat, with a 15-2 record against the RPI sub-100.

The Knights have had success offensively over the first conference games but will be challenged by the UConn pitching staff. The Huskies have allowed more than three runs in just three conference games and outside of last weekend’s series against Tulane.

Probable weekend starters Tim Cate, Wills Montgomerie and Mason Feole will have their hands full with a lineup that features Eli Putnam (.326 AVG/.406 OBP/.535 SLG), who has 12 stolen bases and four home runs to his credit.

The Knights’ 69 steals are tied for 10th in the country. Luke Hamblin (12-for-12) and Matthew Mike (18-for-20) are their other team leaders on the basepaths.

If the Huskies want to take the series, they will need shortstop Anthony Prato and catcher Zac Susi to keep up their quality play. Prato is on a 16-game hitting streak and has reached base safely in all but three games in 2017 and 25 of his last 26 games. Susi leads the team with 34 RBI and has driven in a run in three of his last four.

UConn and UCF will begin their series in Orlando on Friday at 6:30 p.m. with Cate on the mound for the Huskies. Montgomerie and Feole will start on Saturday and Sunday, with first pitch on both days coming at 1 p.m.