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UConn baseball: Huskies take two of three from Pepperdine

Their winning streak might have been snapped, but it was still a successful weekend overall for the Huskies

Ben Huber had two home runs in the weekend series against Pepperdine.
Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn baseball’s 10-game win streak might be over, but they have nothing to hang their heads about after a successful weekend against Pepperdine. The Huskies won the first two games of the series in Malibu, the second in dramatic fashion, and failed to complete the sweep on Sunday, despite more late-game heroics.

Although UConn came up just short on the sweep, it was still an impressive series win over a very solid Pepperdine team. Here’s how it went down.

Friday: UConn 6, Pepperdine 2

Ben Huber changed UConn baseball’s fortunes on Friday with one swing of the bat. In the fourth inning, with the bases full of Huskies, he sent a fastball toward the palm trees in left center field, turning what was a 0-0 pitchers’ duel into a commanding 4-0 lead. UConn would hold on, winning the game 6-2 and setting up a successful weekend in Malibu.

If it weren’t for Huber, UConn starter Austin Peterson would certainly have gotten the game ball. Peterson punched out 11 and held the Waves to just three hits in his first seven innings. He allowed a few baserunners in the first two innings, but settled down and retired 15 in a row, on cruise control until the eighth.

Pepperdine starter Brandon Llewellyn matched Peterson stride for stride, allowing just a handful of UConn baserunners until they broke it open in the sixth. Zach Bushling led off the inning with a single, Casey followed it up with a double, putting men on second and third. Outfielder T.C. Simmons walked to load up the bases, setting the stage for Huber to go yard for his first home run in UConn colors and making it 4-0. Kevin Ferrer was able to tack on a run with an RBI single, and catcher Matt Donlan added on with a double to provide UConn some insurance.

Peterson ran out of steam in the bottom of the eighth, and Pepperdine hopped on him with two straight hits, scoring two runs to bring the score to 6-2. Brendan O’Donnell was brought in as a lefty arm but was quickly chased, and Ian Cooke came in to relieve him. The freshman buckled down and got the final six outs to secure the UConn win.

Saturday: UConn 3, Pepperdine 2

UConn’s second game of the series was another pitchers’ duel, but without a magic grand slam swing of the bat. UConn had to grind out a 3-2 win.

Sophomore starter Pat Gallagher gave UConn a tremendous base to build on with his third quality start in a row. The right-hander worked through the seventh inning, allowing one earned run on five hits with nine strikeouts. He worked around contact and kept misplaced pitches to a minimum, without allowing a free pass to first all game.

UConn jumped on Pepperdine starter Trevor Hinkel in the second inning, with two straight singles from Ben Huber and Matt Garbowski. Huber moved to third and then scored on consecutive wild pitches, bringing leadoff man Zach Bushling to the plate. The California native knocked in Garbowski in with an RBI single to make it 2-0 in front of a large contingent of friends and family.

Bryan Padilla provided a key insurance run in the eighth inning with an RBI single to make it 3-1. That would prove crucial, as a solo Pepperdine home run in the ninth inning brought them within one.

Sunday: Pepperdine 6, UConn 5

UConn once again had the chance to win and sweep the series against Pepperdine on Sunday, but the Huskies came up just short, leaving a man on third with two outs in the top of the ninth, and fell 6-5 on the final game of the weekend.

Another goliath swing from Ben Huber was the only reason the Huskies were even in this game. The Huskies were down 6-2 in the eighth inning when Huber drove in Erik Stock and T.C. Simmons with another towering left-field home run, bringing the Huskies within one.

Freshman Brady Afthim continued his tremendous record as a Husky, appearing in the eighth inning with three consecutive strikeouts to set his team up for a late-inning comeback, something that the Huskies haven’t had to do much as of late.

Christian Fedko had another chance to provide late-game heroics for the Huskies in the top of the ninth, with a double down the left field line, putting a man in scoring position with no outs. But the Huskies could not take advantage, and the game — and their win streak — ended.

UConn let up the first run of the game with sloppy play in the second inning, something that head coach Jim Penders warned would come back to bite them pre-series. Outfielder Korey Morton hit the first home run of his UConn career in the next inning to tie the game up at one, and they would take the lead in the fifth inning by way of some sloppy play from Pepperdine, but the Waves piled on the runs in the later innings, scoring two in the sixth and two in the seventh to push the score to 6-2 in the seventh.

What’s next

UConn won’t get much rest before taking on their next challenge on their West Coast road trip, traveling to Dedeaux Stadium to take on USC in a midweek Tuesday game. The Trojans are having their own hot start to the year, sitting at 11-3 with a sweep over Nebraska Omaha and a series win over UCLA on their resume. The game is scheduled for 9 p.m. on Tuesday, March 15.