No. 23 UConn baseball completed its regular season on Friday with a doubleheader split against No. 10 ECU. The Pirates took Game 1 6-3 before the Huskies were victorious in Game 2, 4-2.
The early game was characterized by a plethora of opportunities for the Huskies that they couldn’t cash in on.
UConn’s leadoff batter reached base in five of the first six innings, but only two of them crossed the plate as the home side left six runners on from the second to the sixth innings.
“We want to try and add pressure early in the game, but their pitchers did a good job all weekend at keeping us off balance,” left fielder John Toppa said. “We just couldn’t string multiple hits together.
Third baseman Conor Moriarty, who led the team with three hits, helped break Alec Burleson’s shutout with a leadoff double in the fifth and eventually came home on a double from Toppa. The junior captain came across on a productive out from catcher Zac Susi, who increased his reached-base streak to 39 games with a third-inning single.
That made the score 5-2 and was the closest UConn got.
Bryant Packard lit up Huskies’ starter Jeff Kersten to the tune of a 3-for-4 afternoon with a trio of extra-base hits. He got it going on the very first pitch Kersten delivered with a double down the left field line as part of a two-run first inning for ECU.
Packard made it 4-0 in the fourth with a home run over the left-field hedges and Spencer Brickhouse added a solo home run of his own the following frame.
Packard delivered his second home run of the afternoon to make it 6-2.
“He’s so strong, the ball looks like it just stays on the bat and he pushes it,” head coach Jim Penders said.
Kersten pitched six innings, allowing six runs on nine hits. He walked one and struck out five.
CJ Dandeneau and Trevor Holmes allowed only one hit in three innings out of the bullpen and although Dandeneau walked the bases loaded in the eighth, he got out of his own jam. But the Huskies simply could not solve East Carolina pitcher Trey Benton.
Benton scattered three hits over three innings of relief, one in each inning. He was let off the hook some when Penders sent Christian Fedko home from second base on a Moriarty single to left in the sixth and Fedko was thrown out by a distance. Had he scored, it would have only been a two-run game.
In Game 2, it was the Huskies that broke through first. After Jake Agnos retired eight of the first nine he faced, Toppa notched a two-out single and second baseman Michael Woodworth worked a four-pitch walk. Susi extended his reached-base streak to 40 games with an RBI single.
Right fielder Isaac Feldstein and Stefanski extended the lead to 3-0 in favor of the home side.
Chase Gardner set aside the first nine he faced before Packard broke the perfect game with a double to lead off the fourth. He scored on a sacrifice fly in the only run Gardner allowed.
Overall, he gave the Huskies five innings of three-hit, one-run ball, tying a career-high with seven strikeouts. He did not walk a batter.
“Chase was great,” Susi said. “He attacked with the fastball.”
Woodworth added to the lead with a line drive home run that got over the left-field fence in a hurry in the fifth. UConn loaded the bases with two outs in the frame after three straight reached base, but first baseman Chris Winkel struck out to end the threat.
The lead was 4-1 Huskies when Tim Cate took the mound for the first time in 50 days.
The junior threw two scoreless innings, allowing two singles in each frame. He threw 34 pitches (27 strikes) and was helped tremendously by a great 5-4-3 double play. Moriarty made a strong throw, Woodworth made a quick turn and Winkel stretched all of his 6-foot-5 frame to retire Nick Barber.
“It was nice to see him out there,” Penders said of Cate’s performance.
PJ Poulin pitched the final two innings, earning his 15th save of the year, breaking John Russell’s single-season program record.
UConn (32-18-1, 14-10) will await the final day of American Athletic Conference play on Saturday to find out its tournament seeding. The Huskies’ next game will come against a to-be-determined opponent on Wednesday in the American Athletic Conference Tournament in Clearwater, Florida.