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UConn baseball drops two of three at No. 16 Virginia

The Huskies had a rough start to the 2021 season, but the series heated up as the weekend went on.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn baseball dropped its season-opening series to Virginia, losing two games to one in a weekend that fluctuated between hardscrabble pitcher’s duels to wild, mistake-filled shootouts and back again.

Game 1

The UConn lineup got off to a slow start against Virginia on Friday, running into a pitcher who was on his game, to say the least. The Hoos closer-turned-starter Andrew Abbott demonstrated immense control and mixed up his stuff as he sat down 17 of 19 Husky batters faced, despite multiple well-worked at-bats by UConn to drive his pitch count up.

Ben Casparius had a similarly great start to his UConn career. He struggled to locate slightly out of the gate, with a single, a walk, and a hit-by-pitch driving in the Hoos’ first run of the night, but settled into a groove after Gelof, Tappen and LeBreux engineered a run in the third to make it 2-0. He ended the day after 5.2 innings with two earned runs, six strikeouts and just one walk. On an average day, that might be good enough to give him the win.

Newcomer to the starting lineup Chris Brown nearly turned the game on its head with a 10-pitch at-bat in the top of the 6th, but it ended in a flyout, though it did help remove Abbott from the ballgame.

Kosanovich relieved Abbot and gave up a moonshot to Reggie Crawford, who provided the Huskies’ only runs on the night. The freshman went 2-for-3, notching two of the Huskies’ three hits in the 2-1 loss.

Game Two

Saturday's game between the Hoos and the Huskies was a wild and woolly 10-9 UConn win, featuring 20 hits, 19 walks, and countless headaches.

Both teams' pitchers started out hot again, but this time it was UConn that drew first blood. Joe Simeone had a solid start, throwing 4.1 innings with no runs allowed and four strikeouts. The real fun started after he left the game.

UConn's offense got going in the fourth inning, when Chris Brown came up in another clutch situation. With the Fedko brothers in scoring position and two outs, the freshman delivered with a two-RBI single in the bottom of the fourth to break the deadlock. Virginia struck back immediately, with a bases-clearing double from their All-American third baseman Zack Gelof to make it 3-2.

The Huskies weren’t down for long and a big 6th inning had them starting to pull away from the 16th-ranked Hoos. Virginia's starter Griff McGarry was chased from the game by Brown's RBI at-bat, and their bullpen struggled mightily to find the strike zone after that. UConn batted around in a wild three-hit, three-walk sixth inning saw the Huskies push the lead to 6-3.

The Huskies made it 7-3 in the top of the seventh, but Colby Dunlop struggled in his first appearance out of the bullpen this year, allowing five runners to reach base consecutively in the bottom of the inning, leading to two runs.

Penders had to call on Caleb Wurster a few innings earlier than he potentially wanted, and Wurster was lights out, for the most part. His wicked breaking pitches got the better of catcher Ciaran Devenney a couple of times, allowing an uncharacteristic pair of passed balls that eventually tied the game up, 7-7.

UConn had a big eight and ninth to go up 10-7. Christian Fedko’s two-out, go-ahead RBI single that broke the 7-7 tie was the cherry on top of his first career four-hit game.

Wurster then made his way back out to the mound for the bottom of the ninth. His pitch count was pushing 50, near a career-high, and he showed why the coaching staff considered him for a starting spot. It wasn’t all smooth sailing, but UConn’s closer held off Virginia and limited them to two runs in the inning to eke out the 10-9 win.

Game 3

The temperature might have been the warmest it’s been all weekend, but the Huskies’ bats went cold again, dropping the decisive game of the weekend, 4-2.

Sunday ended up as an audition of sorts for UConn’s third and fourth weekend starting spots for conference play, and it’s fair to say that Austin Peterson, the Purdue transfer by way of an Illinois junior college, put together the best case.

After a shaky start from Jimmy Wang, who allowed two runs in the first inning and was pulled after 1.2 innings, Peterson settled down for 3.2 innings of solid work. The 6’6” junior allowed just one earned run, looking super confident on the mound going through a dangerous Virginia lineup twice. Pat Gallagher, the third player in contention for a starting spot, relived him and allowed an earned run in 1.2 innings of work.

No matter how well the Huskies’ parade of potential starters performed, it’s hard to win when you can’t get runners on base. UConn hitters managed just three hits against Virginia starter Mike Vasil, who threw six innings and allowed just one unearned run. The top offensive performer on UConn was Kyler Fedko, who went 2-for-4 with two singles.

What’s Next

UConn baseball has a full week to regroup from this opening series loss, and there’s no reason for concern. The Huskies lost last year’s opening tournament and went on to go 7-3 before the season shut down. They’ll be back in action this weekend for a three-game set against Southern Mississippi.