Left-handed reliever PJ Poulin entered Thursday’s series opener between No. 23 UConn and No. 10 ECU with a one-run lead to face Pirates left-hander Bryant Packard, who entered the day with a .409 batting average, best in the American Athletic Conference, with a runner on second base.
Packard worked a full count in a long at-bat but Poulin got him to swing over a biting slider that broke away, a decisive out to end the eighth in a 3-2 game.
“He’s been our guy all year and I’ll bet on him any day,” head coach Jim Penders said.
It was Poulin’s 14th save, tying John Russell’s single-season record from 2017.
A one-out walk by Drew Henrickson was the catalyst for the first run of the game, which came when first baseman Chris Winkel couldn’t handle third baseman Conor Moriarty’s throw from third on what would have been an inning-ending groundout. Henrickson scored from second and ECU had an early lead, but UConn came back.
“In the first and second inning, they hit some rockets,” Penders said. “[Feole] didn’t step off the gas.”
Spencer Brickhouse and Chris Holba had trouble on the flip on center fielder Troy Stefanski’s chopper to begin the frame and after second baseman Michael Woodworth drilled a pitch down the left-field line, the Huskies were in business.
Winkel and left fielder John Toppa each had RBI singles to give UConn a 2-1 lead.
Starting pitcher Mason Feole took the lead and ran with it.
He was not as sharp as he can be, allowing seven hits and four walks, but only two of those baserunners crossed the plate — one of them unearned. He limited runs and gave the Huskies a chance to win, with a lead into the late innings.
“He bends but he doesn’t break,” Penders said. “There are some batters where you say, ‘what the heck is he doing?’ But he always dials it back in.”
His counterpart in Holba would not last nearly as long. Catcher Zac Susi, who singled in the third to increase his reached-base streak to 38 games, walked to begin the fifth. That was followed by a double down the left-field line by Isaac Feldstein and spelled the end of his outing.
Susi would come around on a productive out by Stefanski, but hesitated, keeping Feldstein at second and limiting the potential damage.
After navigating a two on, nobody out jam in the sixth, Feole began the seventh at 101 pitches and allowed the first two he faced to reach base, at which point Penders went to reliever Jacob Wallace.
Wallace allowed a run to score, but Woodworth and Anthony Prato turned a quick 4-6-3 double play to end a bases-loaded threat.
UConn (31-17-1) and ECU finish their series with a doubleheader on Friday, starting at 11 a.m. Jeff Kersten will pitch Game 1 for the Huskies.