UConn baseball opened up with a big second inning and held off USF’s comeback on Friday night for a 6-4 win in their American Athletic Conference opener.
Shortstop Anthony Prato hit his first home run of the year, a grand slam, and designated hitter Isaac Feldstein notched his seventh home run of the season in the win. Left fielder John Toppa, second baseman Christian Fedko and first baseman Thad Phillips each had multi-hit games.
It was a vaunted pitching matchup with two potential first-round picks in Tim Cate and Shane McClanahan, but one did not hold up his end of the bargain.
After they each rolled through their first inning in short order, it rapidly became undone for McClanahan.
He left a few fastballs up in the zone and he paid dearly for it, including to Feldstein, who took him deep to center for a home run to lead off the frame.
Fedko’s single over the second baseman’s head to plate Phillips before third baseman Conor Moriarty and right fielder Anthony Nucerino each drew walks to load the bases with just one out and a 2-0 lead.
Prato came to the plate and another elevated fastball went over the fence in a similar spot for a 6-0 UConn lead.
McClanahan settled down, but was lifted after four innings for Noah Yager, who stymied the Huskies’ offense, allowing just four hits in five innings. The visitors did load the bases with one out in the seventh, but he was able to work around the danger.
Meanwhile, Cate seemed to regain his form. He only pitched five innings, partially due to pitch count, throwing 97 pitches, but when he was out there, he delivered his best outing of the year. He struck out a season-high 11 batters and allowed just one run on five hits with two walks.
Yager prevented the Huskies from really pulling away, which allowed the Bulls to make a comeback bid and force Jim Penders to sweat it out in the UConn dugout.
In the eighth, Huskies pitcher Jake Wallace retired a pair of batters sandwiched around a pair of doubles and was replaced by Trevor Holmes. On the third pitch he threw, Tyler Phillips made it 6-4 with a no-doubt home run down the right field line.
That caused Penders to come and get his closer, PJ Poulin, who recorded the four-out save for his sixth of the season.
UConn (11-7) and USF will go at it again on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. on USF’s Facebook Live. Mason Feole and Peter Strzelecki are the probable starters.