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UConn baseball splits doubleheader, wins series against Rhode Island

The Huskies’ bats weren’t at their best, but they still managed to scrape a series win.

UConn’s Patrick Winkel #43 gets ready to celebrate his walk-off home run in the 13th inning in the first game of a doubleheader with Rhode Island.
Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn baseball (9-12, 0-0 Big East) split a prolonged doubleheader with Rhode Island on Saturday, winning the first game 3-2 in dramatic fashion and falling 6-4 in the second.

Game one

UConn won the first game of the doubleheader in a marathon affair, beating the Rhodies 3-2 in extra innings.

Catcher Patrick Winkel was the difference in the end, walking off the game with a solo home run in the bottom of the 13th inning to give the Huskies the series win. UConn didn’t have much in the way of offense outside of Patrick Winkel; the first three batters in the order combined to go 0-for-17 on the day.

Winkel got the Huskies off the mark in the bottom of the fourth, with an RBI double off the wall in left field that scored Reggie Crawford, who reached on a fielders’ choice. UConn went 2-0 up in the next frame, as Chris Winkel was productive for the second game in a row, putting Chris Brown in scoring position for Andy Hague to drive in via sacrifice fly.

Rhode Island didn’t let the Huskies hold the lead for long, as Xavier Vargas blasted one of what would be four home runs on the weekend. This one was a two-run shot that would eventually send the game to extra innings.

Austin Peterson put in another solid shift as a starting pitcher, firing 5.2 innings and allowing just one run on four hits, striking out five with just one walk.

Polonia entered the game and pitched well, holding the Rhodies hitless outside of the one Vargas homer. He handed the ball off to fearsome bullpen duo Andrew Marrero and Caleb Wurster, who carried the game well into extras.

Justin Willis, the Vanderbilt transfer who lost most of the last two seasons to injury, took over for Wurster and closed out the game by retiring six-straight Rhode Island batters, bolstered by a slick pick-off throw from Patrick Winkel.

Game two

UConn was going for the series sweep in the second game of the doubleheader, but it was their turn to fall to a Rhode Island comeback of their own, 6-4.

“It’s funny how offense comes and goes, and it was definitely not here today,” head coach Jim Penders said after the game.

The Huskies led 4-3 going into the eighth inning, but Rhode Island put up a crooked number against the back end of the UConn bullpen and the Huskies were unable to counter.

The Huskies scraped a few runs off the plate early, and right fielder Erik Stock was at the heart of most of them. His big day started in the second inning when he got the Huskies off the mark with an RBI triple to score Christian Fedko. He manufactured runs in the fourth and again in the sixth, stealing second and coming around to score on a throwing error by the Rhody catcher, then scoring on a wild pitch.

Joe Simeone was rolling through four innings, allowing two hits while striking out three, but was again unable to make it through the opposing lineup a second time. The wheels began to fall off in the fifth, when he allowed a double to designated hitter Sonny Ulliana and a two-run home run to Xavier Vargas, the first baseman who tortured the Huskies all weekend long.

Nearing the end of a doubleheader, the Huskies were already planning on emptying their bullpen, but they received another curveball in the form of an injury to designated hitter Ciaran Devenney early in the game. Head coach Jim Penders was forced to move Patrick Winkel from the DH spot to catcher, meaning that a pitcher would have to hit from then on.

That meant the bullpen would have to be utilized even more creatively than usual, with interesting results. Stephen O’Donnell entered the game for Simeone. He pitched 1.1 innings giving up a homer to Vargas, but did get the first hit of his UConn career when he batted in the DH spot, a single through the gap in the left side of the infield.

UConn will return to action on Tuesday against Boston College in its second midweek game of the season at Elliot Ballpark.