UConn baseball didn’t get the start it was hoping for in the NCAA Tournament, dropping its first game 8-5 to the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
A number of different factors contributed to the loss:
Frustrating Day at the Plate
UConn certainly didn’t have any trouble getting hits against the Cornhuskers, collecting 19 on the day — a season high. However, the Huskies couldn’t find a way to push any runners across after the fifth inning despite having plenty of chances.
The Huskies hit 8-of-25 with runners on, 6-of-15 with two outs but went a brutal 3-of-16 with runners in scoring position. UConn recorded two or more hits in each of the first seven innings.
From the third inning on, UConn ended every inning with a runner in scoring position. Scoring a run in any of those seven innings would have given the game a vastly different complexion but Nebraska worked themselves out of the jam each time.
“I liked the way our guys swung the bats, we seemed to hit the ball where they were,” head coach Jim Penders said.
Putting full blame on the Huskies’ offense is unfair considering the number of impressive plays Nebraska’s defense made to rob UConn on a handful of occasions. But ultimately, the Huskies just couldn’t string enough hits together or come through with the hits when they needed them the most.
After two innings, UConn was in a good spot. The Huskies led 4-1, the bats were hitting and overall, the team looked confident. Then in the top of the third, the game flipped.
Nebraska began to hit UConn pitcher Mason Feole. They weren’t hard hits by any means — just singles. However, it began to add up. With just four singles and a walk, the Cornhuskers drove home four runs to take a 5-4 lead.
“I thought [Feole] made some mistakes in that third inning with two strikes, a couple pitches weren’t located great and they hit them,” Penders said. “With two strikes he made a couple pitches that didn’t hit the spots that [catcher Pat Winkel] wanted them in and he got hit, he got hurt by them.”
Nebraska Finds a Way
UConn’s pitching staff didn’t have a great day on the mound but they weren’t as bad as the box score might suggest. Despite giving up 13 hits, just two of those went for extra bases. The Huskies also struck out 16 batters, a season-high. However, Nebraska did what they needed to do to scrape eight runs across.
“Give Nebraska credit, they played really well. They didn’t give away anything,” head coach Jim Penders said. “Not one walk, not one hit batsman, no errors on their part. They didn’t us anything for free...They got the hits with runners in the scorers position.”
As a team, the Cornhuskers went 6-16 from the plate with runners in scoring position. It was the antithesis of UConn’s performance — coming up in the big moments and doing just enough to get runs home.
Down But Not Out
Just as Penders did last year when the Huskies dropped their first tournament game, the coach reminded everyone that when his team went to the Super Regional in 2011, they also lost the first game.
“We gotta do it the hard way now,” Penders said. “Last time we won one of these things, we lost the first game against Costal Carolina in 2011 in a big way and came back and did it the hard way and won it all on Monday night against Clemson to get to South Carolina so that was the message to the players in the huddle after the game.”
Quote of the Day
Penders: “If you told me before the game we’d have 19 hits and we’d strikeout 16 of their guys and we’d only strike out four times, I’d like our chances but this is a funny game.”
- Against the first batter of the game, Feole became UConn’s all-time leader in strikeouts with 271. With an eight-strikeout performance, the mark is now set at 278 K’s.
- With a 2.2 innings pitched today, Caleb Wurster tied David Mahoney’s single-season record for appearances with 34, set back in 2013.
- John Toppa tied the team’s season high with four hits on the day.
UConn will play the loser of No. 1 Oklahoma State and No. 4 Harvard tomorrow at 1 p.m.