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Preview: UConn baseball vs. No. 9 Texas Tech | 3 p.m., ESPN+

The Hook C will face their toughest test yet in a four-game series against the Red Raiders.

NCAA Baseball: College World Series-Florida State vs Texas Tech Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

When:

Friday, March 12, 3:00 p.m.

Saturday, March 13, 3:00 p.m.

Sunday, March 14, 3:00 p.m.

Monday, March 15, 11:00 a.m.

Where: Dan Law Field, Lubbock, Texas

TV: ESPN+

Radio: FM 91.7 WHUS

Texas Tech Warren Nolan RPI Ranking: No. 7

Warren Nolan Predicted Score and projected starters:

Friday: RHP Brandon Birdsell (1-0, 6.52 ERA) vs. RHP Ben Casparius (1-1, 2.61 ERA)

Texas Tech 9-5

Saturday: LHP Patrick Monteverde (2-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. RHP Joe Simeone (1-1, 4.91 ERA)

Texas Tech 6-4

Sunday: LHP Mason Montgomery (1-0, 1.80 ERA) vs. RHP Austin Peterson (1-0, 3.00 ERA)

UConn 8-5

Monday: RHP Micah Dallas (1-1, 1.98 ERA) vs. RHP Pat Gallagher (0-1, 11.37 ERA)

Texas Tech 10-5


UConn baseball will face their toughest test of their 2021 season so far when they travel to Lubbock this weekend for a four-game series against No. 9 Texas Tech. This does not mean that their first three weekends have been walks in the park, however, as they have already faced a Virginia team that only recently dropped out of the top 25 plus two perennial NCAA Tournament mainstays in Southern Mississippi and Coastal Carolina.

But Texas Tech is a different beast entirely as the Red Raiders have been one of the giants of college baseball for the past ten years. They’ve made the NCAA tournament five out of the past six years, hosted four super regionals, and made the College World Series in 2014, 2016, 2018, and 2019, winning 45 games during each of these campaigns.

Texas Tech was 16-3 and poised for another College World Series-contending season when the 2020 season ended. But just like most of the college baseball world, they have everyone back for another crack at a title in 2021.

As a result, the Red Raiders have one of the deepest lineups in the entire country. Jace Jung at second base is the brother of Josh Jung — the Rangers’ No. 8 draft pick — and has started his career off nearly as well as his sibling did. He hit .264/.604/.438 his freshman year, was named Freshman All-American by the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, and has started out 2021 even better. Jung leads the team with a .400 average, 1.387 OPS, six home runs, and 23 RBI, with his clutch knocks powering them to a series sweep of Gonzaga this past week.

Joining Jung in the top of the order are Dru Baker and Dylan Neuse, two of the top players at their position in the nation. Baker originally started his career alongside Jung in the middle of the infield, but now stars as one of the top shortstops in the nation. He’s tremendously athletic in the field and has a wicked bat that has helped him hit over .300 so far this season. Dylan Neuse, one of the most talented outfielders in the nation and a second-team D1Baseball.com All-American, has also gotten off to a hot start this year with a .318 average and five extra-base hits.

Even farther down in the order, players like Cal Conley and first baseman Nate Rombach are extremely dangerous hitters. Conley started 18 games at shortstop as a freshman in 2020 and started all 13 so far this year, hitting .339 with 15 RBI and three home runs. Nate Rombach started his career as a deputy catcher but has found a role for himself in the lineup at first base with a 1.019 OPS, five doubles, and three homers. The right fielder Easton Murrell was highly touted coming into this year after a great fall, having missed the 2020 season due to injury. He started off the season batting cleanup but has since dropped down the order.

As far as pitching goes in college baseball, you’re not going to find much better outside of Lubbock. While their 2020 ace Jacob Brutoski is missing 2021 after Tommy John surgery, they have the talented Patrick Monteverde around to make up for his absence. Monteverde is an unlikely story, transferring in from Division II Seton Hill in Pennsylvania, but hit the ground running as a part of one of the best rotations in the country and is putting up mind-boggling numbers. The redshirt senior has pitched 18 innings of scoreless ball so far in 2021, striking out 23 while allowing just 6 hits and 2 walks. He has a fastball in the low 90’s, a 75 mph changeup, and a 79 mph slider.

Joining him in the weekend rotation is left-hander Mason Montgomery, who hasn’t allowed more than one earned run in each of his three weekend starts, and sophomore Brandon Birdsell, who’s acted as a Friday starter while hitting 99 consistently in each of his first three starts. Rounding out the four-game rotation will likely be right-hander Dallas Micah, who has a 1.98 ERA through three weekday starts in 2021.

Connor Queen is the de facto closer, sharing the late reliever role with junior Ryan Sublette and freshman Brendan Girton, all of whom have one save on the year.

What to watch for

Can Chris Winkel and Kyler Fedko play themselves back into the lineup? Both of them were dropped for last weekend’s tournament in Conway, after putting up poor at-bats and plenty of strikeouts. While one replacement in the outfield, freshman TC Simmons, didn’t have the hottest weekend at the plate, redshirt freshman Kevin Ferrer had a few clutch knocks and should be in line to start again in left field. That leaves one open spot and out of the two, Fedko seems the more likely to grab it. He made an appearance on Friday where he drew a walk and scored a run, then followed that up with a solid at-bat on Monday where he put up quite a fight before eventually striking out.

UConn’s pitching depth didn’t hold up too well in their first four-game weekend test run, and their second one will be an even tougher challenge. During Monday’s game against Coastal this week, UConn pitching combined to give up 12 runs in the first 5 innings, and all three of the candidates for that fourth starting spot—Jimmy Wang, Pat Gallagher, and Stephen O’Donnell—struggled mightily. Things won’t get too much easier this week, but college baseball is college baseball so anything can happen.