After eight games in 12 days, UConn baseball ended its West Coast road trip with a lot to be proud of. They entered spring break 9-1 and exit it 14-4, with a midweek win over USC and series victories over Pepperdine and, most recently, UC San Diego.
Even though the strength of schedule is not as high as previous seasons, UConn is in good shape for an NCAA tournament bid even if it doesn’t claim the Big East auto-bid.
The Huskies are slowly gaining national recognition. They’re ranked No. 25 in the D1Baseball.com poll and fifth in the receiving votes category of the USA Today Coaches Poll. RPI won’t be useful to look at for a few more weeks, but Jim Penders’ squad is trending upwards in that metric as well.
The Huskies won two out of three at UC San Diego this past weekend. Here’s how it went down:
Game 1: UConn 8, UC San Diego 7
UConn starter Austin Peterson’s first shaky start of the season had UConn trailing early. The big righty gave up back-to-back singles and a fielders-choice to make it 1-0 in the first inning after getting two quick outs and got some quick help from catcher Matt Donlan, who threw out an attempted base-stealer at second to end the inning.
Second baseman David Smith hit a two-run homer in the top of the second, his first of two on the night, to put UConn ahead. The game swung back and forth in this fashion all night. UCSD tied it back up in the third inning, then David Smith’s second homer of the night put UConn back up two. The Tritons pulled it back within one in the sixth inning, chasing Peterson after a walk and a hit-by-pitch.
The Huskies won the game thanks to a big seventh inning from the middle of the order: After first baseman Ben Huber doubled, Casey Dana and T.C. Simmons hit back-to-back home runs that gave the Huskies three runs of breathing room.
The Tritons had the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, down just one run when Garrett Coe entered the game in relief of closer Justin Willis and struck out the final batter to secure the 8-7 UConn victory.
Game 2: UConn 3, UC San Diego 2
UConn baseball took it down to the wire again in game two, and it was another dramatic home run that gave the Huskies an edge: right fielder Casey Dana proved to be all the offense UConn needed on Sunday, with a three-run blast in the third inning, his third of the year, to put the Huskies up 3-0.
Pat Gallagher limited the damage and worked around pressure all afternoon, allowing two runs in his 5.2 inning start. Cole Chudoba entered for him in relief and posted the longest outing of his career: 3.0 scoreless innings with two hits and no walks. Left-handed Brendan O’Donnell earned the save, striking out the final batter with the tying run at first.
Zach Bushling and Erik Stock both posted multi-hit nights, the former extending his hit streak to ten games.
Game 3: UConn 7, UC San Diego 8
UConn fought back from down three runs in the final game of the series on Monday afternoon but came just short of completing the series sweep and eventually fell 8-7 in the final game of their west coast swing.
The Huskies were down 4-1 in the fifth inning when a two-run single from Zach Bushling, an RBI triple from Erik Stock, and a two-run home run from Casey Dana put the Huskies up 6-4.
The Huskies’ lead wouldn’t last long, and the Tritons stormed back in the next frame with three runs of their own. A homer from Matt Donlan in the eighth to tie it back up wasn’t enough, and UC San Diego went ahead for the final time in the eighth inning with a sacrifice fly, ending their own losing streak at 10 games.
The Huskies have upcoming series against Rhode Island and Kent State, neither of which should be a very tough test. Their bigger challenges will be midweek games: The y meet Bryant on Wednesday, March 23 at Elliot Ballpark and have a pair of midweek games vs. Boston College later in the month.