UConn baseball’s weekend trip to Conway, North Carolina for the Baseball at the Beach Tournament contained a full season’s worth of drama and developments.
The Huskies displayed their ability to control the game against a lesser opponent against Miami (Ohio) on Friday but failed to wake up in time to get the win against Davidson. They then entered a mini-series against one of the nation’s top programs in Coastal Carolina and proceeded to dish out a walloping on Sunday before taking one from the Chanticleers the following day.
All in all, there’s a lot to unpack from this weekend so let’s get started.
Lineup does the shuffle
A few Huskies had extremely live bats during the tournament, including first baseman Reggie Crawford and left fielder Kevin Ferrer.
Already off to a sizzling start this season, Crawford showed no sign of cooling off and tallied five hits (all but one of them for extra bases), 14 total bases, and eight RBI.
Ferrer added some important hits in the three games he started as well, launching the first home run of his UConn career against Coastal Carolina on Monday. The Pawcatuck, Connecticut native finished 4-for-13 on the weekend with three extra-base hits, staking his claim to a regular spot in the order.
Ferrer’s success emphasized a developing trend that nobody’s spot in the lineup is 100% safe from head coach Jim Penders’ tinkering. Team captain Chris Winkel and preseason Big East player of the year Kyler Fedko both saw themselves on the outside looking in this weekend after being dropped from the starting lineup for the first time in a while.
Fedko had struck out a team-high 13 times in 25 at-bats entering this weekend but had a few good at-bats coming off the bench. He pinch ran for Ciaran Devenney on Friday and drew two walks as well. It might not seem like much, but his at-bats this weekend were much more promising.
Pitching depth’s first real test
It appears that UConn’s pitching staff is more or less set for a typical three-game series. Casparius bounced back from a rough start against Southern Mississippi to mow down the Miami (Ohio) lineup, going 8.0 innings and striking out a career-high 11. He had full command of the strike zone and calmly sat down player after player, helping UConn to their first shutout win of the year and his first victory in a UConn uniform.
Joe Simeone seems to have the Saturday starter spot on lock, but the Huskies know to have a stable of relievers readily available in case Simeone doesn’t have his best stuff. Transfer Austin Peterson has made the Sunday spot his own after another decent start against Coastal Carolina that gave the Huskies a platform for their dramatic extra-innings win. He’s now breathing down Casparius’ neck as far as stats are concerned, with a 3.00 ERA through 15.0 innings pitched and an 18/4 K/BB ratio.
UConn currently has a few candidates for that fourth weekend starter slot, which will be necessary when the conference schedules roll around. Colby Dunlop, who has the most experience out of the bunch, has allowed nine runs in three appearances since his move to the bullpen. Jimmy Wang is 0-1 with four runs allowed and batters are hitting .417 against the redshirt sophomore. The freshmen that UConn hoped would step up haven’t hit the ground running either, with Pat Gallagher and Brendan O’Donnell allowing a combined 14 hits and 11 runs through 18.1 total innings of work.
UConn is likely to stick it out with Gallagher as their fourth starter, but Wang and O’Donnell will certainly get opportunities throughout the season, either on the weekend or (more likely) the weekday. Dunlop has 21 starts under his belt in his four-year career with UConn, so he could shift back to that role in a pinch. His best year as a starter came in 2019 when he went 7-4 with a 4.31 ERA. While those numbers aren’t setting the world on fire, they would be solid contributions during this jam-packed season. Kenny Haus’ career has taken off with the Huskies as a bullpen arm, but he also has experience starting so could be called upon if needed.
UConn’s at-bats have been relatively poor to start the season, and not just in clutch situations. Huskies batters have struck out 104 times already this season, leading the Big East by more than 25 in that statistic or, as Penders put it more succinctly, “We lead the western world in strikeouts.” It’s undeniable that UConn has faced good pitching in the first month of the season and it won’t get any easier next week against No. 9 Texas Tech, a team that’s won nine straight games and allowed just over two runs per contest in those victories.