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Does UConn baseball have the pitching to win in Gainesville?

The Huskies can hit with the best of them, but can they get enough from their starters to move to Supers for the second straight year?

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

One of the oldest cliches in baseball is that there’s no such thing as too much pitching. The 2022 UConn Huskies were blessed with a trio of horses that started, in order, each regular season weekend and through the Big East Tournament and the College Park Regional. The only reason the trend didn’t last the entire season was that Austin Peterson pitched in relief in a winner-take-all Game 7 in College Park, which pushed his start to Game 2 of the Stanford Super Regional, while head coach Jim Penders opted to hold Enzo Stefanoni in favor of Ian Cooke against a potent Stanford offense in Game 3.

While pitching is often a strong suit of Penders-coached teams, the trio of Peterson and Stefanoni, along with Saturday starter Pat Gallagher, might have been the best of his tenure as UConn coach, especially when reliable weekday starters in Cooke and Cole Chudoba are factored into the equation.

Cooke is the only starter remaining of the five-piece group that started all but four of UConn’s 66 games in 2022. Stefanoni and Chudoba each ended their baseball careers and entered the workforce, while Peterson and Gallagher were MLB Draft picks. Replacing that many innings (341 2/3) is incredibly difficult to do, particularly amid a higher run-scoring environment.

Scoring and home runs are increased throughout Division I and Penders had the unenviable task of reconfiguring his entire rotation. The first iteration included Cooke, along with Jack Sullivan, who pitched purely in relief as a freshman, along with a pair of Division III transfers in Andrew Sears and Stephen Quigley. However, Penders and pitching coach Josh MacDonald were constantly tinkering and working around injuries.

Five different pitchers started a weekend game for UConn and they started in eight different rotations, including different iterations each of the first six weeks of the season. While these arms have talent and have had the occasional strong start, consistency has been an issue.

Arguably the best statistical season belongs to Friday’s probable starter in Quigley. His ERA is 4.75 and batters are hitting .268 against him, with 71 base hits in 72 innings. Of the pitchers that started a weekend game in the regular season, he and Thomas Ellisen are the only arms with an ERA under 5.00, while Andrew Sears’ exceeds 6.00.

Garrett Coe has been a positive revelation, however, and is in line to start UConn’s second game in the Gainesville Regional. Used primarily in relief, he started the Big East Tournament opener and pitched 5 13 innings, surrendering three runs on four hits, with just two walks and four strikeouts. He came back on Saturday and followed Sullivan, who seemed to be used as an opener, in the winner-take-all Big East Tournament Game 7. In that performance, he was even better, as just one run came across the plate in 5 23 innings of work. This performance earned him a spot on the Big East all-tournament team.

For UConn, starting pitching hasn’t been too much of a hindrance, as the program took home its second straight 40-win regular season, but when the offense wasn’t scoring, the pitching wasn’t there to pick up the slack.

The Huskies scored fewer than five runs just 10 times in 58 games this year. Their record in those contests was just 1-9. They hit .306/.416/.493 and the team’s batting average and on-base percentage are good for top 25 nationally, while slugging percentage is just outside the top 50.

In contrast, the pitching staff’s 1.50 WHIP lags behind, though there are effective bullpen arms, including Brady Afthim, Zach Fogell, Devin Kirby and Justin Willis, along with Coe, that have done well at holding leads.

If UConn is going to win the Gainesville Regional, it’s going to have to slug its way there and hope that the pitching staff will do its part to keep games close enough for the offense to go to work.