UConn baseball came up in the clutch this weekend on the road against Kent State, grinding out a two-games-to-one series win on the back of two clutch innings that turned Friday’s and Saturday’s games from toss-up results into wins.
Zach Bushling stepped up to the plate with two outs to go in the fourth inning of game one and delivered a bases-clearing double that took UConn from down 2-1 to up by two runs in what would end up a 4-3 win. In game two, it was Casey Dana who played the hero, with a three-run home run in extra innings that delivered the 8-6 series win for the Huskies.
“[Dana’s] been our most clutch guy. It’s amazing because he can look bad, he can look bad on a fastball or on a curveball, but he won’t miss it a second time,” head coach Jim Penders said.
UConn might not want all of their wins to be this dramatic, but a series victory is a series victory, their sixth-straight.
“We won the game [and the series] because we fought harder. I was proud of the way we scuffled with the bats,” Penders said.
The narrow margins went the other way in the final game of the series, when Kent State scored in the bottom of the eighth to push them over the top in a 5-4 win.
Friday: UConn 4, Kent State 3
For UConn to have a chance to win game one of the series with their struggling bats, they had to get a standout performance from their pitching staff. Luckily for them, Austin Peterson was able to deliver exactly that with 8.0 innings, his longest stint of the year, and double-digit strikeouts en route to his fifth win of the season.
Aside from a wobbly third inning where Kent State knocked back-to-back home runs, Peterson was pretty much perfect, getting out of a tough jam in the seventh by striking out two batters to end the inning. Justin Willis had what was literally a perfect outing, with three-straight strikeouts to earn the save.
UConn’s runs came in the third and fourth innings, with an RBI single from shortstop Bryan Padilla and Bushling’s bases-clearing double to put UConn up 4-2.
Saturday: UConn 8, Kent State 6
UConn was able to get the victory on Saturday in a wild, 8-6 game in extra innings, with Casey Dana’s three-run homer putting the final nail in Kent State’s many comeback attempts.
The game featured a total of 22 hits, four errors, four stolen bases and three comebacks from the Golden Flashes. They were still kicking well into the bottom of the 10th, with a solo home run to make things interesting, but Willis was able to dig out the save and the win.
UConn’s offense was humming, a far cry from the sub-par at-bats shown on Friday. Five different Huskies had multi-hit games including Dana, who kicked off the scoring for UConn with a two-run homer in the in the first inning.
The game was tight and tense heading into the seventh inning, when UConn exploded for a three-run inning, with a single from Matt Garbowski, a sac fly from Bushling and a RBI single from Padilla. Kent State responded with a three-run frame of their own in the bottom of the inning. Ian Cooke relieved him and fired 2.2 innings of one-run ball, taking the game to extras, where UConn got the upper hand.
Sunday: Kent State 5, UConn 4
UConn came out on the wrong side of the third-straight closely contested game on Sunday, doomed by an eighth inning go ahead RBI groundout.
Sunday starter Enzo Stefanoni had a shaky start, plunking the first batter of the game and then giving up a two-run home run to the very next batter. He was able to get out of the inning without any more damage, but the Huskies were chasing Kent State from the very start.
The took the lead back in the second inning with a home run from catcher Matt Donlan, his fourth of the season, to make it 3-2. But the Golden Flashes came right back in the third inning to tie it up with a solo homer of their own.
UConn nudged back ahead in the fifth with a double to right field from Bushling and an RBI single from Padilla with two outs, but Kent State rallied in the seventh and eighth innings, scoring one run in each to edge ahead once again and salvage the final game of the series.
UConn now turns their eye to a pair of home midweek games. The first will occur against Central Connecticut, on Tuesday, April 6 at 3:05 p.m.. It will be the Huskies’ first meeting of the season against their cross-state rivals, who are 11-7 with series wins over Navy, Dartmouth and Wagner. The next day, UConn will host Merrimack (8-14-1), again at 3:05 p.m.