USC might have stood out as UConn baseball’s toughest opponent on its early-season West Coast road trip, but the Trojans were just another generic adversary for UConn’s do-everything pitcher Ian Cooke. He lined them up and sat them down one after another en route to a 7-1 win.
Before this game, Cooke’s longest stint was three innings against North Florida, a slightly smaller stage. Wednesday night’s display, however, showed a much higher ceiling for the freshman from New Milford, Connecticut.
“I thought he’d give us a good start but we didn’t know how much we’d get from him. I thought we’d get... two times through the order on him but he was just shoving,” head coach Jim Penders said after the game.
Penders compared Cooke’s performance as a freshman to Tim Cate against William & Mary in 2016, when the eventual Nationals draftee went six innings and struck out 11, allowing a sole earned run.
Cooke’s performance carried UConn through 7 2/3 innings of scoreless ball, striking out seven. Cooke pitched to contact and the defense helped him out behind him by remaining solid, without an error in the game. USC’s lineup helped him too, by being aggressive at the plate: Cooke made it nearly to the ninth throwing under 100 pitches.
While Cooke was working, the UConn offense was happy to help him out. USC had a bullpen day, and the first pitcher arriving in relief had the misfortune of absorbing the biggest blow from UConn’s red-hot offense.
Catcher Matt Donlan started off the third with a double to the wall in left center, shortstop Bryan Padilla followed with a single, and David Smith bounced back from his rough weekend at Pepperdine with a bases-clearing triple to make it 2-0. Erik Stock drove him in with an RBI double to extend his hit streak to 25 games, and Casey Dana made it 4-0 with a sacrifice fly.
Padilla and Ben Huber earned the Huskies some insurance in the later innings with a pair of home runs, their second and third of the year, respectively.
UConn will continue its spring break in Southern California with a trip to Long Beach State for a premier matchup against the Dirtbags on Wednesday night at 9 p.m. The game will be available for streaming on ESPN+.