It was beginning to look dire for UConn baseball’s 2018 season. After falling apart in their opening game to Washington, the Huskies came out flat and uninspired in an elimination game against LIU Brooklyn. They looked tired, ready to pack it in and escape north, away the southern heat.
“I was nervous that we weren’t going to see the Huskies down here,” head coach Jim Penders said. “It looked like that in the beginning of the game today and the end of the game yesterday.”
After three innings, UConn was down 3-0 to an LIU Brooklyn team that hadn’t even played a top-50 RPI team all season and got rocked by Coastal Carolina the night before, 16-1. To make matters worse, the Huskies’ starter Chase Gardner was already out of the game, forcing head coach Jim Penders to look to his bullpen.
He didn’t need to look far.
Enter Tim Cate. The pitcher who was projected as a first-round pick and expected to be the team’s ace before the season took the mound hoping to provide a spark and keep his team’s hopes alive for another 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,” freshman Christian Fedko said. “I felt like we were not confident enough in ourselves as were all season. 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.”
When Cate came out from the bullpen gate, he provided the injection of confidence that the Huskies so desperately needed.
“When they saw Tim on the mound, everybody knows he’s going to be good,” Penders said. “They’re not going to get any more. That’s the mentality when he takes the mound — they’re not going to score again. So all we had to do was get three and that’s what we did that inning.”
Cate was in vintage form, throwing 5 1/3 innings, allowing just four baserunners while striking out six. Despite the high heat and humidity, he threw 82 pitches — his highest total out of the pen.
“I felt good, the command was pretty good, my body was a little tired because it was a little hot out there, but I was trying to grind it out,” Cate said. “I was just trying to throw strikes and I was trying to get the offense back in the dugout as fast as I can and give them some momentum.”
The Manchester, Connecticut native got out of a jam in the third and the team responded by tying it up in the top of the fourth. Once UConn took the momentum, there was no giving it back.
“I talked to them in the beginning of the third and that didn’t do any good,” Penders said. “From the fourth inning on it was a different ball game for us.”
Although typically a starter, Cate has exclusively pitched out of the bullpen since returning from an arm injury that sidelined him for the better part of two months. But with the season on the line, he just wanted to do anything he could to help the team.
“I did not want to go to Cate but he came to me before the game and said, ‘I can give you 70-80 pitches. I feel great. I can start, relieve or do whatever.’ That was great for us,” Penders said.
Despite the win, UConn still has a big hill to climb after their opening game loss as they need to win three more games to take the regional. Penders is hoping his team can continue riding the wave from Saturday’s victory.
“The fourth inning has to be the spark to vault us forward from here. You never know what could happen, We’ve got to survive today and then you just hope you can capture that momentum.
“But I felt like the tide turned and we just have to keep that rolling against a quality team, whoever it’s going to be. We’ll have our work cut out for us. You had to survive and advance today. That was what today was about.”