Jim Penders just had a gut feeling. Before UConn baseball took on Harvard in an elimination game, the head coach decided to make a switch, inserting Thad Phillips into the starting lineup at third base in place of the recent incumbent David Langer.
“I just had a hunch, I told David Langer before the game, ‘Listen, you didn’t do anything wrong, you actually gave us really good at bats and you played good defense I just feel like it’s Thad’s day today,’” Penders said.
Phillips proved Penders’ instincts correct. In his first at-bat, Phillips smoked a ball into the deepest part of the ballpark that would’ve been a RBI triple if it didn’t hop over the fence for a ground-rule double. In the sixth, Phillips got the triple he missed out on with a ball up the right field line and then got the RBI on a single in his next at-bat in the seventh.
Phillips only needed a home run to complete the cycle but didn’t get a final chance at the plate to so. His three hits tied shortstop Anthony Prato for the team lead on the day.
“Thad hasn’t played in a while. He came off the bench and gave us a great offensive effort,” Penders said.
On top of his hitting performance, Phillips scored two of the team’s 10 runs on the day. Penders made sure to highlight the senior’s underrated baserunning ability after the game.
“When he gets on base, he tends to score,” the coach said. “He’s a real good baserunner.”
Despite giving him the nod, Penders wasn’t confident Phillips could play all nine innings. The third baseman was dealing with an ankle issue and the coach wasn’t sure he could properly move on the basepaths and at third. As a contingency plan, Langer was ready to come in at any time after the first pitch. That wouldn’t prove necessary.
“Thad did a heck of a job and he was more than ready,” Penders said. “The ankle looked pretty good today.”
Phillips’ performance does add some intrigue into who plays third for UConn tomorrow. But until it fails him, Penders might as well keep trusting his gut.