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UConn Baseball Weekend Preview: Hartford and CCSU

The Huskies will finally play their first game at J.O. Christian Field.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn baseball lost two out of three last weekend to USF in its American Athletic Conference opener, but the Huskies rebounded on Tuesday with a strong shutout win at Boston College.

Due to Wichita State’s new membership in the AAC, there are now nine baseball schools and each weekend of conference play, one team has a bye. This weekend, UConn is off from conference play, so they’ll take on Hartford twice and CCSU once.

“Both Central and Hartford are jumbling their schedules and we’re grateful for that,” head coach Jim Penders said.

This weekend’s schedule is unique as the typical Friday-Sunday weekend series is shifted forward one day to Thursday-Saturday because of the Easter holiday. One of the games will also be played at Dunkin’ Donuts Park in downtown Hartford.

Hartford

To begin the weekend, the Huskies will host the Hartford Hawks (5-15), who they have not beaten since 2013.

Tim Cate (2-4, 4.41 ERA) will take the mound for UConn, while Hartford has not released who its starting pitcher will be. This will be the Huskies’ home opener after playing 21 true road games to start the year, a program record.

“[Playing a home game] is going to be nice,” outfielder John Toppa said. “You don’t really notice it Friday or Saturday. Coming back from Sunday, I got back at 2:45 a.m. on Monday, so it’ll be nice to not have buses or planes.”

Chase Gardner (1-0, 3.86) will go against a starter to be announced at Dunkin’ Donuts Park in Hartford on Saturday.

The Hawks have gone on the road and played strong competition, getting seven games in against NCAA tournament teams in South Alabama and Oregon State the first two weekends of the year.

Offensively, Hartford slashes .243 AVG/.329 OBP/.340 SLG, which is good for 238th, 253rd and 228th, respectively, in the country. Only two of their regulars hit above .270 in Nick Campana (.357/.416/.486) and Chris Sullivan (.338/.427/.400).

Billy DeVito (0-2, 6.86) has pitched the first game of each of their last four series and is a solid bet to get the start on Thursday. A few different guys are in the mix for Saturday, including Nathan Florence (0-4, 5.64).

As a staff, they allow batters to hit .282 against them and own a 5.58 ERA (223rd) to go along with 7.4 strikeouts per nine innings (218th) and 6.3 walks per nine innings (283rd).

“We’re going to prepare like normal and try and get a couple wins out of it,” catcher Zac Susi said.

Central Connecticut State

In the middle of the two matchups with Hartford, UConn will face CCSU at home on Friday. Mason Feole (3-0, 3.74) will get the nod against a to-be-named starter.

The Huskies have already matched up against CCSU, notching a win over the Blue Devils in extra innings.

Feole will be contending with a CCSU lineup that slashes .295/.376/.399, which is 33rd, 80th and 97th, respectively in NCAA. They are led by a trio of batters that hit over .350 in Chris Kanios (.378/.391/.444), Peyton Stephens (.389/.476/.481) and Dean Lockery (.365/.487/.492), with another four regulars hitting over .265.

On the mound, the Blue Devils are not as strong. They allow opposing batters to hit .275 against them and have a 4.92 ERA (169th). They strike out 7.9 batters per nine innings (164th) and walk 4.1 more per nine innings (135th).

“They gave us a really good challenge,” Toppa said. “We didn’t put together too many at-bats at the plate.”

As for the Huskies, they are led by Susi (.329/.386/.355), who has a four-game hitting streak and has reached safely in his last 12 contests. He is joined by infielder Christian Fedko (.281/.342/.375) and outfielder Isaac Feldstein (.259/.326/.605) for longest active hitting streak on the team.

The team slash line is .263/.333/.388, which is 157th, 237th and 134th in Division I.

Cate, Feole and Gardner anchor a pitching staff that has a .257 batting average against and a 4.09 ERA (102nd). Husky pitchers strike out 9.1 batters per nine innings (64th) against 4.5 walks per nine innings (186th).

UConn plays Hartford on Thursday at 3 p.m. at J.O. Christian Field and on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Dunkin’ Donuts Park. A matchup with CCSU will complete the weekend on Friday at J.O. Christian Field with a 3 p.m. first pitch.