How to follow
Friday, March 5, noon vs. Miami (Ohio)
Saturday, March 6, 11 a.m. vs. Davidson
Sunday, March 7, 3 p.m. at Coastal Carolina
Monday, March 8, noon at Coastal Carolina
Where: Springs Brooks Stadium, Conway, South Carolina
TV: ESPN+ (Saturday and Sunday)
Radio: 91.7 WHUS FM (All four days)
Warren Nolan RPI Predicted Score:
UConn 4, Miami (Ohio) 3
UConn 7, Davidson 6
Coastal Carolina 8, UConn 5
UConn 11, Coastal Carolina 7
UConn and Coastal Carolina have developed a tremendous rivalry in recent years, meeting six times in the past decade, often with huge stakes attached. In 2021, they’re renewing the rivalry in Conway, South Carolina. The Huskies will take on Davidson and Miami before two games against Coastal Carolina in the Baseball at the Beach Tournament.
The first few meetings between the UConn and Coastal got the rivalry off to a cracking start. Both teams took part in the Clemson regional of the 2011 NCAA tournament, and their first meeting was in the first game, which Coastal won 11-1. But the Huskies got revenge in an elimination game in the loser’s bracket. UConn returned the favor and pumped the Chanticleers, 12-6, sending the 42-win team packing from the postseason in a game that featured multi-hit efforts from UConn legends LJ Mazzili and John Andreoli.
Coastal would go on to win the 2017 College World Series championship. They would see UConn again the next season in a 12-10 UConn win.
The real fireworks between the two programs would come later in the year, however, as they would meet again in the regional round of the NCAA tournament. UConn knocked Coastal out of its own regional in a thrilling 6-5 victory that helped establish Christian Fedko as a clutch powerhouse. His eighth-inning, go-ahead home run sent the hosts packing.
The two teams have played twice since then, spitting them. For two teams that didn’t start playing until the turn of the century, there’s a lot of history to draw from.
This year’s Coastal squad is no less intimidating than the teams that hosted regionals in the past. The Chanticleers were picked to win the Sun Belt in the preseason coaches poll, coming off back-to-back conference wins in 2018 and 2019, and so far have warranted the acclaim. After splitting a four-game set against Wake Forest and Duke, they went 3-0 in a non-conference tournament they hosted against Kennesaw State, Bryant, and West Virginia.
So far this season, Coastal’s gameplan is basically to bludgeon opponents to death. They have 11 homers as a team already in the year, 12 doubles, and 2 triples. They’re slugging .468 as a team, and nobody has enjoyed this hot start more than second baseman Nick Lucky. The junior is 12-for-31 on the year with three homers and 7 RBI as a leadoff hitter, recording a hit in every Coastal game this year.
Coastal’s most anticipated returner is center fielder Parker Chavers, whose breakout 2019 season saw him hit a team-high .320 average along with 15 home runs and 10 stolen bases.
The biggest question mark heading into this year for Coastal Carolina was the Friday starter spot. The Chanticleers lost ace Zach McCambley in the third round of the 2020 MLB draft, and his replacement Reece Maniscalco will miss the first half of the season to elbow surgery. They’ve had to rely on Jacob Maton, a redshirt sophomore who had never thrown a pitch in college baseball until this year, and he’s had mixed results.
Coastal could save Maton for their games against UConn, which occur on Sunday and Monday, or could throw Nick Parker, their most proven weekend starter, or Wright State transfer Dan Kreuzer out against the Huskies late in the weekend.
Davidson baseball had a season that every small school dreams of in 2017, winning its conference for the first time in school history, then heading two hours east to Chapel Hill and knocking the Tar Heels out of their own regional in the NCAA tournament.
The Wildcats are more than just a feel-good story, though. They’re perennially a solid team in the Atlantic 10, a conference that is usually dominated by VCU and includes teams like Fordham and Rhode Island, two common UConn opponents.
They’ve started out 2021 strong after being picked to finish fifth in the preseason poll, going 4-3 with wins over Morehead State and a series sweep over Toledo. Legendary Davidson head coach Dick Cooke built his teams in a very college baseball-ey sort of way: small ball, manufacturing runs, and pitching depth. Cooke’s successor after he retired in 2017, Rucker Taylor, has followed in his footsteps.
Junior Gabe Levy leads the pitching staff, a 6-0 righthander who has gotten off to a decent start in 2021 with a 1.00 ERA through two appearances. Blake Hely is the usual Saturday starter, the junior right-hander throws in the mid-90s and has help opponents to a .175 batting average through two starts. Lefty Ryan Feczko is their Sunday starter and the freshman has started off the season well, it’s unlikely UConn will see him on Saturday.
Davidson’s lineup is led by outfielder Henry Koehler, who hits near the top of the order and leads the team in hits and runs scored with 10 in both categories. Junior Trevor Candelaria has gotten off to a nuclear start this year in the outfield, with eight hits, four doubles, and two home runs in 21 at-bats. Third baseman Alex Fedje-Johnson is the team’s best returning bat, and he “only” has eight hits in 29 at-bats by comparison.
Miami is a historical power in midwest baseball more than a present one. They made NCAA tournament appearances in the 1970s and ’80s, the latest coming in 2005 under Tracy Smith, who is now the head coach at Arizona State.
They were picked fourth in the MAC coming into this year by the coaches, and have acquitted themselves nicely against a strong non-conference schedule. They swept Jacksonville, a perennial NCAA tournament team, in their opening series of the season, lost a midweek game against Kentucky then split a four-game series against Florida International.
Sam Bachman is the name to watch out for on the Redhawks, a 6-1 junior right-hander who grades out as a potential early draft pick this spring. He has tremendous velocity and movement on his fastball from a 3/4 slot, a changeup, and a wipeout slider with ridiculous movement. His stuff hasn’t disappointed this year, allowing just one run and striking out 16 through 11 innings of work—opponents are hitting just .162 against him, and the Huskies will be lucky enough to see him on Friday afternoon.
What to watch for
When UConn is in the field
Can Ben Casparius rebound from his first bad start in a UConn uniform? The North Carolina transfer gave up five hits and four earned runs against Southern Mississippi last Friday, and although he still could have come away from this game with a win, it’s clear that this isn’t like to be the version of Casparius we see week-to-week. Davidson is slightly weaker opposition, so hopefully Casparius can get back to his dominant ways.
This is also the first four-game weekend of UConn’s season, so we’ll get to see a preview of what the rotation could look like forward, with eight four-game series ahead.
When UConn is batting
After two weekends, we have a pretty good idea of what the lineup looks like, but as last weekend showed, it still has room for some tweaks.
Head coach Jim Penders threw the hot-hitting Christian Fedko into the cleanup spot last weekend after his brother Kyler started out slow, eventually dropping him altogether for Ben Maycock. Kyler pinch hit for Maycock in the final game of the series, though, and started off the ninth inning with a hard-hit single, so we still might see him in the lineup to start this weekend.
David Langer came back from a COVID-related issue the first weekend to feature at third base again against Southern Mississippi and didn’t seem to miss a beat, going 4-for-13 with a pair of doubles. Chris Brown, who had an exciting opening series filling in for Langer, made an appearance at third in the final game of last weekend.
Reggie Crawford, on the other hand, hasn’t once had his spot in the lineup in question. After an offensive explosion on Sunday against Southern Miss, with two homers and a double, Crawford will no doubt want to keep up the pace for as long as possible.