UConn baseball picked a heck of a time to notch their first walk-off win of the season, inching ahead of Houston 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth courtesy of an RBI single from third baseman David Langer.
In the double-elimination AAC Tournament where staying out of the losers’ bracket is beyond critical, Langer and the rest of the team made sure that they wouldn’t have to play any extra games just yet.
Here’s how it went down:
An Unlikely Hero
Hitless since April before the Tulane series and batting well below .200 as late as a week ago, David Langer wouldn’t be your first guess as to who would send UConn into the second round of the AAC Tournament unscathed.
Even if you had a notion before the game, the odds decreased still when he flailed at a strikeout pitch in the first and failed to put a good swing on the ball and bring home Kyler Fedko, who was sitting on third with one out in the fifth inning.
But head coach Jim Penders wasn’t surprised in the least.
“He’s just really worked and had a great positive attitude and it’s paid off,” Penders said. “He was hanging his head a little on a pitcher’s mound visit and I told him ‘Hey, look: you gotta be ready to make a play,’ and he looked at me and said ‘I’m ready, I’m ready to make a play.’”
And make a play he did, sending an RBI single up the middle that scored Thad Phillips from second and sent UConn into the next round.
“Up there I knew he wasn’t gonna walk me with Christian [Fedko] on deck and Kyler’s long at bat,” Langer said. “I knew he was gonna try to throw some strikes early, so I wanted to be aggressive and tried to hit something hard.”
The Fedko Clutch Gene
It’s just something about the postseason that seems to wake the Fedko brothers up. Christian Fedko’s legendary go-ahead run last year against Coastal Carolina that sent the Huskies to the final of the Conway Regional and the waterfall of doubles that helped them to the conference tournament final all cemented his status as a clutch performer.
His younger brother, Kyler, took up the mantle on Tuesday. His two-run home run put UConn on the board in the second 2inning, a screamer into the bullpen in left field.
Fedko would go on to smoke a triple into the deepest part of the ballpark in the fifth and, although he struck out in the ninth, pushed Houston closer Fred Villareal to the limit just before Langer’s walk-off.
“Kyler’s really centered and balanced right now,” Penders said. “I really liked it, even the at-bat where he struck out at the end with Villareal, that’s a hell of a battle.”
Paul Gozzo’s recent power surge has been a pleasant surprise for the Huskies late in the season. After getting slotted into the lineup when Thad Phillips had to travel to California for a family emergency, Gozzo began to cement himself among the starters — he’s doubled in each of his last five games, going 7-for-17 during that span.
“Paul had an opportunity to start and he kicked the door in,” Penders said. “He’s swinging a hot bat and he’s played very well, so I’m happy for him.”
The catcher from Wallingford, Connecticut went 2-3 with a double and a homer on Tuesday, scoring on the Fedko home run and moving Phillips into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt just before Langer’s walk-off.
“You never see that in the big leagues, but that’s what the guys gotta know. You have to deliver in the moment and that’s what the situation called for,” Penders said. “He laid down the perfect bunt.”
Freshman righty Jimmy Wang played the opener role in his first-ever postseason game, pitching two innings of scoreless ball, allowing two hits, no runs and a lot of soft contact.
The Beijing, China native was relieved in the third inning by Jeffrey Kersten, who allowed zero walks and just two hits — unfortunately, one of them was a solo homer to star Houston third baseman Jared Triolo to kick off the fourth inning. Kersten was pulled after 3.1 innings and just 35 pitches, leaving the door wide open for him to make a start later in the week.
“He’s such a savvy veteran, we have so much confidence in him and the players have so much confidence in him,” Penders said.
Despite giving up a leadoff home run to the very beefy Houston slugger Joe Davis on the first pitch of the sixth, CJ Dandeneau settled down for 2.2 innings of relief action. He let one more run in the top of the seventh to tie the game at three, but set the game up nicely for Caleb Wurster and All-American reliever Jake Wallace to close it out.
Top of lineup struggles
Penders can usually rely on the top of his lineup to produce runs, but they struggled on Tuesday morning, ending the day 2-16. However, Penders said he’s confident they’ll get the job done later in the tournament when it counts.
Our first big fly of the week! Kyler Fedko shoots this one out down the left field line and @UConnBSB takes a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning on Houston.— American Baseball (@American_BSB) May 21, 2019
Tune in live on the ADN https://t.co/tT0OkoAB4E pic.twitter.com/FvuWZaXJjM
Tied again! We've got a great one going in our opening game of the #AmericanBSB Championship, as @UConnBSB's Paul Gozzo gets in on the homer party and it's 3-3 in the bottom of the seventh!— American Baseball (@American_BSB) May 21, 2019
Tune in live on the ADN https://t.co/tT0OkoAB4E pic.twitter.com/p5psEhoyQ0
UConn’s win today means that they’ll get an off day tomorrow, then take on the winner of No. 1 East Carolina vs. No. 8 Wichita State at 3 p.m. on Thursday.
UPDATE: No. 8 Wichita State pulled off a monster upset against No. 1 ECU, which means that UConn will face the 91st-ranked team in the country in RPI, as opposed to the fifth-ranked, Thursday at 3 p.m.