No. 23 UConn baseball lost its third game in four tries on Tuesday as Rhode Island rode two eighth-inning solo home runs to a 4-3 victory over the Huskies.
“We were trying to go to three veterans to close that one out,” head coach Jim Penders said. “It just didn’t work out.”
Without their top two relief pitchers in PJ Poulin and Jacob Wallace, Penders needed to rely on the rest of his bullpen in North Kingston, RI.
UConn reliever Dan Rajkowski came on with a 4-3 lead and got one out, but Xavier Vargas drilled a line drive over the right field fence to tie it. After a fly out, Sam Ilario took a ball for a ride over left fielderJohn Toppa’s head to give the Rams the lead that they gave up the inning before.
Cam LaFleur took the mound in the seventh inning and second baseman Michael Woodworth bunted for a hit. First baseman Chris Winkel almost hit one out, but would settle for a wall-ball double, putting two on for designated hitter Christian Fedko.
The freshman took the first pitch he saw over the second baseman, tying the game at 2-2.
“[Woodworth] made a great baseball play to avoid that tag, we needed that,” Penders said. “Winkel hit the heck out of one and then Fedko, here we go.”
Anthony Nucerino pinch-ran for Fedko and would come across on an Anthony Prato sacrifice fly for the lead.
It was a staff day for the Rams, as no Rhode Island pitcher contributed more than two innings, but they were effective in shutting down the UConn offense early, as the visitors notched just three hits through six innings.
“We didn’t compete with the bats,” Penders said. “We had a lot of non-competitive at-bats.”
The Huskies threatened in the third, as they loaded the bases with a two-out rally, but Nick Robinson got center fielder Troy Stefanski to hit a two-hopper to the shortstop for the final out of the frame.
While Rhode Island relied on a team effort to get it done on the mound, UConn leaned on starter Colby Dunlop.
The freshman, who had yet to give more than four innings in an outing, delivered six innings of two-run ball, allowing eight hits. He struck out three and walked one.
“He threw a lot of strikes,” Penders said. “They’re really aggressive early in the count and that worked to his advantage.”
The only damage he allowed came in the bottom of the third, when Sonny Ulliana singled up the middle to score a pair of runs. The frame could have ended before he came to the plate, but a walk coupled with a fly ball that Toppa just missed it in left field put runners on second and third with two outs.
UConn (30-17-1) begins its final regular season weekend on Thursday against No. 10 East Carolina with Mason Feole on the mound for the Huskies.