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UConn baseball knocks off Rhode Island in home-and-home series

The Huskies remain undefeated in weekend series.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

With the series win on the line, and the runs that were so numerous early in the weekend drying up, UConn baseball was able to rely on small-ball execution and solid defense to secure a 4-1 victory on Sunday, taking its weekend series against Rhode Island two games to one.

“We just kind of had the feeling it would be a struggle, so we had to find ways to score,” head coach Jim Penders said. “Today, we knew we would be in for a tussle.”

UConn’s approach was highlighted in the fourth inning with three infield singles and a sacrifice fly putting some distance between the Huskies and their next-door neighbors.

“We’ll do small ball scrimmages [in practice] where all we do is bunts and hit and runs, so we work on it quite a bit and it clearly worked out,” outfielder Erik Stock said.

UConn backed up their dink-and-dunk offense with rock-solid defense and excellence on the mound. Catcher Matt Donlan threw out a pair of would-be Rhode Island base stealers, Bryan Padilla made a few rangy plays at shortstop including the first out of the final frame, and David Smith and Ben Huber hooked up for a run-saving play in the eighth.

Enzo Stefanoni pitched around contact and runners on base, going five-plus innings with a single earned run and zero walks. Ian Cooke also had another solid performance in relief, getting UConn through a tough stretch of innings, allowing just a single hit through two innings of work. Justin Willis had a good bounce-back performance, earning the final five outs of the game.

Their execution on the mound and in the field was impressive in the frigid temperatures, and despite the fact that it started snowing midway through the third inning, the crowd on hand was equally respectable, with well over a few hundred showing up to Elliot Ballpark.

T.C. Simmons and Donlan combined to score the first run of the game with back-to-back doubles in the second inning, and Erik Stock continued his white-hot streak with a solo home run in the third.

UConn now sits 17-5 on the season, and has won every one of its six series played this year in a variety of ways. Demonstrating versatility as a team can only be a good sign as UConn looks to continue its strong start to the season.

Here is how the first two games of the series played out:

Friday: UConn 19, Rhode Island 2

The opener featured a tremendous offensive explosion for the Huskies en route to a 19-2 win. The domination at the plate was total: UConn had 12 hits, four of them leaving the park, and scored in all but two innings — in fact, every member of the UConn roster crossed the plate. UConn had a season-high 11 walks, and Ben Huber scored four runs, tied for a season-high.

The meat of the lineup did much of the work for the Huskies: Erik Stock, Ben Huber and T.C. Simmons combined to go 6-for-12 with 10 RBI. Shortstop Bryan Padilla also continued his hot start to the season, going 3-for-4 with a double and a home run. The redshirt freshman is now hitting .347 on the year and is 7-for-18 in his current five-game hit streak.

Austin Peterson had yet another fantastic start, making it through six innings, with one earned run and 11 strikeouts. That takes him to 53 punchouts on the year, good enough for eighth-most in the nation.

Saturday: Rhode Island 6, UConn 2

UConn’s offense seemingly spent all of their runs in the blowout on Friday, laying an egg on the road at Kingston in a 6-2 loss.

The game was quiet until the fifth inning, and neither team could get anything going offensively. UConn’s offense mustered just four hits all game against Rhode Island starter Domenic Picone, and the Huskies’ starter Pat Gallagher was cruising, with 11 strikeouts and zero runs allowed through four innings.

Gallagher began to struggle, however, attempting to navigate the Rhode Island order for a third time. He gave up three straight singles to start the fifth inning, then a three-run home run to make it 4-1.

UConn struck back with an Erik Stock home run in the next inning to make it 4-2, but Rhode Island kept them at arm’s length with a home run in the seventh and an RBI single in the eighth.

What’s Next

UConn’s next test is a big one, a midweek game at home against Boston College on Tuesday. Its rivals from the next state over are having a tough time in ACC play, but are still a quality opponent. Cole Chudoba (1-0, 2.13 ERA) is expected to get the ball to start, with bullpen arms like Braden Quinn and Brady Afthim expected to be available. First pitch is slated for 3:05 p.m.