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UConn baseball splits four-game series with Ohio State

The Huskies had a rocky start to their 2023 season.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn baseball’s opening series of the season ended up as a mixed bag, with the Huskies splitting the four-game set against Ohio State, two games to two.

The Husky offense was stifled in a 3-0 loss to the Buckeyes on opening night, then bounced back with 9-6 and 8-6 victories on Saturday and Sunday. But pitching struggles caught up to them in a 8-3 loss on Presidents’ Day.

UConn would have hoped to get more from opening weekend, but there’s plenty to build on heading into its California road trip next week. Here’s how it went down:

The offense slow to get going on opening night

UConn’s season got off to a sluggish start, dropping the first game of the series 3-0, the first time it had been shut out in 90 games, including the entirety of the 2022 season.

The Husky offense managed just four hits and two walks in the game, striking out in 12 at-bats.

While their offense was as sluggish as it’s been in recent memory, Ian Cooke’s debut as a Friday night starter didn’t go too poorly: The sophomore tossed six innings, allowing three runs but striking out eight to just one walk.

Brown transfer Zach Fogell and redshirt freshman Thomas Ellisen both made their debuts in the game, and both combined to pitch two hitless innings in what would be two of the better bullpen performances of the weekend.

Wheaton College transfer Jake Studley recorded his first hit at the Division I level. UConn came closest to scoring in the sixth, after David Smith reached second on a hit and moved to second on a failed pickoff attempt, and in the eighth, after Studley singled and advanced to second despite a groundout.

Wild second game

UConn’s offense bounced all the way back in the second game of the series on Saturday, with five extra-base hits out of 10 total base knocks in a 9-6 win.

After going down 1-0 in the first to a solo home run from Ohio State’s Marcus Ernst, UConn bounced back with a pair of crooked number innings in the third and fifth. Korey Morton opened up the scoring with a two-run triple that brought home David Smith and Jake Studley, then Dominic Freeberger drove him home with a sacrifice fly.

In the fifth inning, Smith tacked one on with an RBI groundout to score Studley, and Freeberger struck again with a two-run home run over the right field wall. Morton would add a second home run in the seventh, with a two-run towering shot over the left field fence to make it 8-2.

The top of the lineup did most of the heavy lifting for the Huskies on Saturday: Smith, Morton, and Freeberger combined to go 6-for-11 with nine RBI, two homers, and a triple in the game.

Jack Sullivan pitched well in his first start of the season, allowing two earned runs through 5 13 innings of work, but things started to go haywire in the bullpen as the Huskies headed to the bottom of the seventh. Five-straight walks opened the door for the Buckeyes to claw their way back in the game, scoring four runs on no hits and an error to bring the score to 8-6.

Devin Kirby was able to calm the situation down, however, entering the game with the bases loaded and zero outs and ended the inning with two straight strikeouts, but did walk the first two batters he faced. Kirby finished the game with three innings, four strikeouts, and allowed zero hits, earning his first career save in the process.

Holding on to end the weekend

UConn’s 8-6 win against the Buckeyes on Sunday played out a lot like it had the previous day: with a wild ride with the Huskies eventually coming out on top.

UConn struck early with runs in the first and second inning. Ben Huber led off the scoring with a two-run home run to center field, driving home Smith, who singled to lead off the game. In the second inning, freshman Maddix Dalena got in on the fun in his first collegiate at-bat, homering to drive in fellow newcomer Jake Studley to make it 4-0.

Meanwhile, in his first start for the Huskies, Andrew Sears was rolling through the first three innings but ran into trouble in the fourth, giving the Buckeyes a lifeline by allowing two singles and a home run to bring them back within two.

The bullpen proved to be an issue once again, as Ohio State took the lead with three runs in the sixth inning off a tough outing for newcomer Thomas Ellisen, making it 5-4.

But the Huskies stormed right back in the next frame to go on top for the final time. Bryan Padilla grabbed his second hit of the season, driving in two with an RBI single after an error scored David Smith.

Ohio State wasn’t done and loaded up the bases in the seventh after getting one back to make it 7-6, but reliever Brady Afthim was able to draw a fly-out to end the inning. UConn would put the finishing touches on the win with a Dominic Freeberger RBI single in the eighth.

Rough fourth game

The Huskies’ late-inning pitching struggles bit them again in the final game of their series against Ohio State, a 10-5 loss on Monday afternoon.

The game was tied 3-3 heading into the fifth inning, where a five-run frame for the Buckeyes ultimately delivered them the win and prevented the Huskies from walking away with the series win.

UConn started the game hot in the top of the first. David Smith took the first pitch of the game yard and Ben Huber followed his lead with his second home run of the year, making it 2-0 before Ohio State’s first plate appearance.

The Buckeyes responded with a three-run third inning, but UConn tied it back up in the fourth with a single from Matt Garbowski, his first hit of 2023. It looked like UConn was poised to score eight-plus runs for the third time of the weekend, but it was Ohio State who took the most initiative, with its five-run fifth. The Buckeyes added a pair of insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth, negating a two-run last-gasp effort from the Huskies in the ninth.

What’s Next

UConn (2-2) will be back in action on Friday, kicking off its California road trip with a game on Friday against Cal Poly, then settling in for a two-game set against Cal on Saturday and Sunday.