It’s typically hard to find any positives when your team gets swept in a series, especially when you have four chances to get a win like the Huskies did this past weekend against No. 7 Texas Tech. With that being said, UConn did have a silver lining in the series as they saw their preseason player of the year finally look the part on both offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
Kyler Fedko, UConn’s sophomore standout from Gibsonia, Pennsylvania, came into the season with lofty expectations after being named the Big East Preseason Player of the Year, but his output had fallen well short of his .412/.627/.434 COVID-shortened 2020 line prior to their four-game tilt with the Red Raiders.
He went 3-for-13 during three games against Virginia, didn’t improve his at-bats in a meaningful way against Southern Mississippi, and has gone down by way of the K far too often to start the season. Fedko collected 12 strikeouts in his first 6 games, eight more than he had in the entire 13-game 2020 season.
According to UConn head coach Jim Penders, the sophomore worked on a new swing during the offseason but was plagued by injuries that inhibited coaches from getting a good chance to observe it up close. Fedko’s swing did work for him during live at-bats in the fall so they let him roll with it. Unfortunately, that success clearly didn’t continue into the regular season.
“It was obvious, pretty soon into the season, that the swing he had worked on wasn’t going to work for him,” Penders said.
Thus, head coach Jim Penders gave him a little time to cool down and work on his at-bats during the Baseball at the Beach tournament, including some time with hitting coach Jeff Hourigan who helped retool his swing yet again. Fedko started against Davidson on Friday but took a backseat Saturday and Sunday before appearing as a pinch hitter on Monday.
He returned with a fire in his belly against Texas Tech, which was by far the best pitching he’s faced this season, and looked like the Fedko we saw in 2020. During the series, he went 12-for-19 (including five doubles) to raise his batting average from .192 to .378 and looked to be having fun while doing it.
That’s the Kyler we know!— UConn Baseball (@UConnBSB) March 13, 2021
He is 2-2 and brings the Huskies a run closer with this base hit to right! pic.twitter.com/2jdYKKzuaJ
“He did the work, he got in the cages, and he looks like Kyler Fedko again. [His swing] flattened out, he looks a little more confident,” Penders said. “I could do without the celebrations on the base paths, he’s gotten base hits before, but he’s an exuberant player and I’m just happy to see him have fun again.”
Kyler’s fifth hit of the game is a go-ahead RBI double! pic.twitter.com/M1yF4be7eB— UConn Baseball (@UConnBSB) March 15, 2021
Fedko’s success at the plate gave him added confidence in the field, as it often does in baseball. During the final game of the series, he timed a jump perfectly while playing center field and robbed Texas Tech’s star player Dylan Neuse of a go-ahead home run. This play helped keep his team in the game and was so impressive that it found its way onto SportsCenter’s Top 10.
Heading into matchups with their last few non-conference opponents before Big East play begins, the Huskies will need the services of their hard-hitting center fielder if they are to rebound from their 4-10 start, the program’s worst since 2001.
St. Joseph's and Rhode Island are strong programs in their own right, but those series are ones that UConn will look to bounce back in after facing some of the best teams that college baseball has to offer. The Huskies will also squeeze in a home game against Central Connecticut State between their three-game sets with St. Joe’s and URI.
With Fedko swinging a hot bat, gaps in UConn's lineup are few and far between, especially with the emergence of freshmen Reggie Crawford and Kevin Ferrer as power threats. Zach Bushling has been an on-base machine at the top of the order, Erik Stock adds much-needed consistency in the second slot, and Kyler Fedko, Christian Fedko, Crawford, and Ferrer provide plenty of pop in the three through six spots. If UConn’s pitching can perform well against lineups where every batter doesn’t have a .400+ slugging percentage on the year, the Huskies will be well on their way to getting back on track for Big East play.