After a nearly month-long break from their last conference series, UConn baseball (23-15, 7-3 Big East) earned a series victory over St. John’s, three games to one.
The Johnnies, usually a formidable non-conference foe for the Huskies, sit at a well-below-average 15-18 and outside of the 200 in RPI, so it was imperative that UConn take advantage, and they did. Here’s how it went down:
UConn baseball started off the weekend series against the Johnnies on the right foot, with a comeback in the late innings to grab a 4-3 victory, despite leaving runners in scoring position for seemingly every inning.
The Huskies were down 3-1 with three innings left to play when they finally broke through, using two runs in the seventh and one in the eight propelled them to victory. UConn has now scored 53 runs in the eighth inning, easily the biggest inning overall offensively for the Huskies this year.
"It's become kind of a rallying cry for us, the eighth inning is our inning,” head coach Jim Penders said. "It would be a lot easier for the coaches’ blood pressure if they could get up easier though.”
Austin Peterson was given the Friday start over Ben Casparius and put together an admirable performance. He started out shakily to be fair, allowing a parade of baserunners and a pair of runs in the second inning, but rebounded to survive seven innings. His pitch count just ticked over 100 and picked up his third win of the year.
UConn was able to generate traffic on the basepaths throughout the game, with runners in scoring position in the second through fifth innings, but were unable to capitalize until the fifth, when Reggie Crawford singled, stole second base and got driven home by a seeing eye single from Patrick Winkel, making it 2-1.
In what has become a regular occurrence in 2021, the Huskies waited until the late innings to really turn it on offense-wise. The seventh inning started with a pair of singles from Crawford and Kevin Ferrer; both moved up a base on a wild pitch and Ferrer was driven home on an RBI groundout from Patrick Winkel.
UConn’s rally continued into the eighth inning. Kyler Fedko came up clutch with two outs, clearing the bases with a two-RBI double that vaulted the Huskies into the lead for the first time that day.
Meanwhile, Peterson’s seven steady innings of work made Penders’ bullpen decisions easy. Andrew Marrero and Caleb Wurster each provided an inning of scoreless relief in the eighth and ninth, with Wurster striking out the side.
Games two and three
UConn came back on Saturday afternoon and split their doubleheader against the Johnnies, dropping the first game 4-3, but coming back and posting a strong 6-0 victory.
In game one on Saturday, it was UConn’s turn to be on the wrong end of a comeback. The Huskies got off to an early start thanks to a busy first inning. Reggie Crawford got the inning started off with a single into center field, then Patrick Winkel sent him home with an RBI double to the wall in right field.
UConn's runs seemed to dry up later in the game, though, with plenty of hard-hit balls that found the gloves of St. John's defenders.
Casparius couldn't do much with minimal the run support he was given. especially compared to the lofty standard he's set so far this year. UConn's ace gave up four runs off six hits and was pulled in the fifth inning, tied for his shortest outing of the year.
Down 4-2 in the top of the sixth, Patrick Winkel tried to singlehandedly lead the team to another comeback win with a home run to the deepest part of the park (his eighth of the year) to lead off the inning, but the Huskies could not take advantage of the added momentum.
UConn rebounded nicely in the second game of the doubleheader with a 6-0 win off the back of a tremendous outing from starter Pat Gallagher. The freshman had complete control on the mound, striking out eight and walking just two, earning his third win of the season.
"That was his best outing in our uniform,” head coach Jim Penders said. “It was amazing the tempo and rhythm he worked with.”
Lefthander Garrett Coe relieved Gallagher in the eighth and picked up right where his fellow freshman left off, with two innings of scoreless ball to seal the deal. The Huskies backed up Gallagher and Coe at the plate, scoring six runs on six hits including a pair of home runs from Chris Brown—the first of his UConn career—and Chris Winkel.
UConn struck first in the third inning with an Erik Stock double and a two-RBI single from Crawford. Chris Winkel nearly manufactured a run by himself in the fourth: He walked, stole second, stole third and then advanced home on a groundout from Stock. He then actually manufactured two runs by himself with a two-run home run in the sixth to put the Johnnies to bed.
UConn was able to secure the series victory on Sunday in dramatic fashion, defeating St. John's 5-3 in extra innings. The series win takes UConn to 23-15 on the year, 7-3 in the Big East behind Seton Hall and Creighton.
The Huskies loaded up the bases in the bottom of the tenth, but two straight strikeouts from bottom of the order hitters made it look like the Huskies would waste the opportunity to take the lead presented to them. But Zach Bushling worked a very smart at-bat, drawing a walk to score a run after being down 1-2 in the count and Kyler Fedko followed it up with a two-RBI single to hand the Huskies the win and the series.
Stop me if you're heard this one before: UConn had to work from behind in the later innings, down 2-0 after the fourth frame. It wasn't near an insurmountable deficit, and the Huskies began to claw back in the sixth, as Chris Winkel singled to center field to bring in Stock.
It took until the eighth inning for the Huskies to tie it up, but a double from Zach Bushling would get the job done with an RBI double, just his third of the year.
UConn's dynamic relief duo of Marrero and Wurster kept the rally alive with a pair of scoreless innings out of the bullpen, and Wurster was able to secure the save in the tenth.
UConn will take on Villanova next in a four-game series, their penultimate one of the season. Game one will take place at 3 p.m. on Friday, May 14.