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UConn wins weekend series vs. Villanova in walk-off fashion

A sacrifice fly from Casey Dana was all that separated the Huskies from their weekend opponents.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn baseball’s weekend wasn’t going according to plan late in the closing game of the series against Villanova on Sunday. Dropping its first series of the year, especially one at home to a sub-100 team in the RPI, would have damaged its NCAA Tournament resume, but right fielder Casey Dana made sure that didn’t come to pass with a walk-off sacrifice fly to give the Huskies an essential win in a series where they didn’t have their usual offensive punch.

“The pitching and defense don’t take a day off, some days the hitting does,” head coach Jim Penders said. “It was good to get the series win here because we’re not used to lacking offense here. We had to win a different way.”

The Huskies’ pitching staff did their part, too, with Enzo Stefanoni leading the way. The Harvard transfer gave the Huskies six-plus one-run innings, followed up with spotless performances from freshman reliever Brady Afthim, who went two innings and allowed just a single baserunner. Left-hander Brendan O’Donnell earned the win in the top of the ninth by retiring three straight batters ahead of Dana’s game-winning knock.

UConn’s potent offense was kept quiet until late in the game, when Erik Stock led off the sixth inning with a triple, then Ben Huber knocked him home with an RBI double. But Villanova would strike back in the next frame to even it at 1-1.

The Huskies have now won eight series in a row and their first three conference series. Here’s how the rest of the weekend went down:

Friday: UConn 4, Villanova 1

In a packed night on campus that included the football Blue and White spring game at next-door Morrone Stadium, UConn continued its winning ways in the first game of its series against Villanova, prevailing over the Wildcats 4-1.

The final score was tame in light of recent midweek results from the Huskies, but solid pitching and defense led them to their 12th straight win.

Austin Peterson continued on his quest to make the impressive look ordinary this season, providing UConn with 8 1/3 innings of stellar pitching, allowing just one run and striking out seven. The Huskies’ closer Justin Willis entered in the ninth inning and struck out back-to-back batters to earn the save.

Luckily for the UConn pitching staff, the defense behind them was lights out all day, with all four members of the infield pitching in with tremendous athletic plays.

UConn’s offense was slow to give Peterson support, scratching across a run in the third on a Villanova throwing error and then another the following inning a David Smith single that scored Ben Huber after the latter was hit by a pitch.

After Villanova got one back in the seventh, the Huskies closed the game out in the eighth inning with an RBI double laced down the left-field line by Ben Huber and a sacrifice fly from Christian Fedko.

Saturday: Villanova 4, UConn 1

VIllanova hit back in the second game of the series after Friday’s fesitivities, and ended UConn’s winning streak with a 4-1 victory.

After a long run of great offensive production, the Huskies’ lineup stalled out, especially when it counted: they had just seven hits and stranded seven Huskies aboard in the game.

The Wildcats jumped on UConn starter Pat Gallagher early in the game with a two-out, two-RBI double to put the Huskies behind from the start. Villanova tacked on to their lead in the third with another two-strike hit, a two-RBI single after an error extended the inning to make it 4-0. UConn would get one back in the bottom of the eighth but the comeback would stop there.

What’s Next

The Huskies have a pair of midweek games before their next Big East series at Butler: Tuesday at Northeastern and Wednesday at Elliot Ballpark against Yale.