In an elimination game, UConn baseball came out flat. The Huskies had lost back-to-back games just three times all season, but after three innings, were down 3-0 to LIU Brooklyn.
In the top of the fourth inning, a switch flipped as UConn tied the game and rode the momentum to a 10-3 win over LIU Brooklyn in the NCAA Baseball Tournament Conway Regional.
“From the fourth inning on, it was a different game,” UConn head coach Jim Penders said. “Credit [Tim Cate and Christian Fedko] for changing the tone and tenor of the game.”
Early on, the Blackbirds were able to take advantage of Chase Gardner mistakes. After an Edward Modica single led off the second, three wild pitches brought him in.
Andrew Smith and Alex Briggs worked one-out walks in the third and both scored on a hard single up the middle by Modica.
Then the tide turned.
Zac Susi increased his reached-base streak to 47 games with a leadoff walk in the fourth and was on third after Isaac Feldstein’s double over Smith’s head in center field.
Troy Stefanski singled up the middle to bring both runners home and tied the game when Christian Fedko lined a double over the shortstop’s head, one of his two doubles on the day.
“Early on in the game, I felt like there was a scared vibe in the dugout and were trying not to lose and not playing to win,” Fedko said. “I told the guys to be confident in what you’re doing and believe in yourself and each other and everything will turn around real quick.”
Gardner struggled through 2 2/3 innings, allowing just three hits, but he walked four Blackbirds, struck out just four and gave up three runs.
However, Tim Cate picked up his fellow left-hander. He allowed just four baserunners, a pair of walks and a pair of singles, in 5 1/3 innings of work. He also struck out six in 82 pitches.
“I was just trying to throw strikes and get the offense back in the dugout as quickly as I could and give them some momentum,” Cate said.
The Huskies would take the lead for good with another three-run frame in the sixth on four consecutive hits with two outs.
John Toppa started it off with an infield single and advanced to third on Chris Winkel’s base knock. Winkel swiped second and Fedko’s blooper landed in no-man’s land behind third base. Both runs scored and the freshman didn’t slow down until he dove into second with his second hustle double of the afternoon.
“We joke as a staff that he is going to get us one knock and it is going to be the big one,” Penders said. “Today he had two big knocks. He did a super nice job as he had two of the biggest hits of the game.”
UConn was 7-for-17 with two outs and scored six of its runs with two down.
With Cate dealing and the lead in hand, the Huskies scored four more times through their final three at-bats, giving Stefanski, Michael Woodworth, Feldstein and Toppa to record multi-hit outings.
CJ Dandeneau delivered a perfect ninth inning to finish off the Blackbirds.
UConn (36-21-1) awaits the loser of No. 15 Coastal Carolina and Washington for another elimination game at 12 p.m. on Sunday. The Huskies’ starter is to be announced.