UConn baseball benefitted from a little Clearwater magic once again on Thursday, punching their fifth-straight ticket to the AAC tournament semifinals with a sloppy, wild 9-7 victory over Wichita State.
The Huskies overcame a shaky start from Mason Feole, erasing an early 4-1 deficit after clutch plays from both old and new alike: Their senior captain John Toppa and freshman catcher Patrick Winkel.
Here’s how it went down:
Pat Winkel Pop
Patrick Winkel continues to impress, now that he’s at full strength after a few miscellaneous injuries throughout the year. The freshman phenom put UConn on the board first with a solo home run way over the palm trees in right field.
“I knew he was probably gonna go off-speed, and just the fact that it’s a righty-on-lefty matchup I was anticipating a changeup,” Winkel said. “It was a good pitch by him, but I got enough on it to put it through the wind”
The younger Winkel brother wasn’t done, though, sending an RBI single through the right side to score Toppa for the go-ahead run in the ninth.
“The infield was in, so I know I didn’t have to hit it hard to put it through, I just needed to put the ball in play so our baserunners could do what they do,” Winkel said.
Winkel would end the game 2-for-5, now hitting 17-38 in the month of May.
Not to be outdone, older brother Chris Winkel had some clutch hitting of his own with a two-out single in the fifth inning that extended the UConn lead to 7-4.
Pitching Stitches Together Shaky Outing
Despite tying UConn’s all-time career strikeout record with 270 K’s, Mason Feole got off to a rocky start in the second inning, allowing four runs off three hits and two walks. He had good control of his fastball but a specious handle of his other pitches. This caught up to him in the fourth inning, where he allowed two walks, two singles and a double to put UConn down 4-1.
Feole gutted out three more innings after that, including a strikeout of Wichita State’s cleanup hitter Paxton Wallace with the bases loaded in the fourth, but was pulled in favor of CJ Dandeneau after five.
“They weren’t fooled by anything he was doing, so it was time to go to the bullpen,” Penders said. “He gave us five, he gave us what he could and he wanted to stay there but he just didn’t have his stuff. I’m sure he’ll be ready whenever we need him next.”
The majority of the damage by Wichita State came from the bottom of the order; DH Jack Sigrist went 3-for-5, while the right fielder and No. 9 hitter David VanVooren went 2-for-4 with three RBIs.
Dandeneau relieved Feole in a respectable effort after throwing 54 pitches just two days prior; Caleb Wurster relived him and sat down three batters in order in the eighth. Jacob Wallace earned his 15th save of the year in the ninth, striking out VanVooren with three straight sliders.
Oh Captain, My Captain
Like Wichita State in the previous half-inning, UConn found a way to crowd the base paths in the fourth: Paul Gozzo continued his hot streak with a single, while Chris Winkel and David Langer loaded up the bases with a single and a walk, respectively.
This set up Toppa with a golden opportunity down 4-2 to try to make the bulk of it back. He didn’t waste it, sending a grounder slicing past the diving glove of the first baseman O’Brien, clearing the bases after a fumble by the right fielder.
The left fielder rose to the occasion again in the ninth. First, in the top of the inning, he shot a single through the left side and would come around to score the go-ahead run. Then, in the bottom of the inning, he made a near game-saving play.
Katzfey was up against UConn’s all-world closer Jacob Wallace with two men on and sent a would-be walk-off home run high into the mid-afternoon sky only for Toppa to make a leaping grab despite getting a late break on the ball.
“We were screaming at him, we were in no doubles defense so nothing should get over our heads,” Penders said.
“I was watching Toppa the whole time and it looked like he was tracking it down and the wind took it at the last second,” Patrick Winkel said. “That’s when I started to get a little scared, but he made a great play.
The Winkel brothers are getting it done today!— American Baseball (@American_BSB) May 23, 2019
This time it's Chris Winkel. The 6'5" junior drives in 2 with a shot to center field. @UConnBSB is up 7-4 in the 5th#AmericanBSB Championship pic.twitter.com/yqof3elW3z
1️⃣➖5️⃣➖3️⃣➖8️⃣⁉️ 1️⃣➖5️⃣➖3️⃣➖8️⃣‼️@UConnBSB gets out of the bottom of the sixth with your run of the mill, average double play. Nothing out of the normal to see here. Huskies holding onto a 7-6 lead over Wichita State. pic.twitter.com/WBzDFi5ydS— American Baseball (@American_BSB) May 23, 2019
The Huskies take the lead in the ninth! Pat Winkel & Paul Gozzo each drive in a run and @UConnBSB takes a 9-7 advantage into the bottom of the ninth over Wichita State.— American Baseball (@American_BSB) May 23, 2019
Tune in live on the ADN https://t.co/tT0OkoAB4E pic.twitter.com/bdHXD5RxQt
Jacob Wallace fans the final batter of the game, and this one's over! @UConnBSB will head to its fifth-straight #AmericanBSB Championship semifinal. Wallace picks up his conference-leading 15th save of the season.— American Baseball (@American_BSB) May 23, 2019
Final Score: UConn 9, Wichita State 7 pic.twitter.com/ILLYpA7yKq
UConn will take on the winner of Thursday’s ECU/Wichita State matchup on Saturday at 10 a.m. If they win that game, they’re on to the final. If they lose, they will likely take on the same team directly after in an elimination game to make the final.
Wichita State must have the Pirates’ number, because their destruction of ECU in the elimination game on Friday means they’ll be facing the Huskies bright and early on Saturday.