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NCAA Tournament: UConn baseball can’t complete comeback against Texas Tech

The Huskies had the game-tying run at third in the eighth, but couldn’t get a third run across.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

In an unexpected pitchers’ duel, UConn baseball dropped a close decision to Texas Tech, 3-2, as the Huskies couldn’t solve Red Raiders pitcher Mason Molina.

UConn had just three hits on the day, the first of which didn’t come until the sixth inning.

Texas Tech is one of the most disciplined lineups in the country, coming into the NCAA Tournament sixth in the country in walks. The Red Raiders expanded the zone uncharacteristically in the first, with a pair of punchouts for starter Stephen Quigley on fastballs up and out of the zone. Texas Tech used a hit-and-run on a double into the left-center gap by Kevin Bazzell to bring in Gage Harrelson and open the scoring.

Quigley was unable to continue to take advantage of free-swingers, as the Texas Tech hitters adjusted and kept traffic on the bases all afternoon. They stranded a pair in the second, with one each in the third and fourth, before breaking through for a pair in the fifth.

After getting Nolen Hester to fly out to open the frame, Quigley allowed the next three Red Raiders to reach base and Jim Penders had enough, as he came to get his right hander in favor of lefty Zach Fogell to face the left-handed Gavin Kash. Quigley gave his team 4 13 innings, allowing three runs on seven hits, with two walks and five strikeouts.

Fogell punched out Kash on a full count and got ahead on Zac Vooletich, but he fought the count full and went down and got a low breaking ball that got just enough of the plate. The designated hitter drove a single up the middle to plate a pair of runners and make it 3-0 after four-and-a-half innings.

On the other side, Molina was dealing. UConn was not getting into advantageous counts and was on the back foot all afternoon. He was at just 46 pitches through four innings and aside from an error on a pop-up to second base that would have otherwise ended the inning, a baserunner did not reach until a slow roller off the bat of David Smith got off of his glove and into no-man’s land with two down in the sixth.

Paul Tammaro was hit by a 2-2 pitch as the next batter, putting a runner in scoring position for the first time, but Dominic Freeberger popped up the first pitch he saw to end the threat.

Fogell, who didn’t allow a run in 3 23 innings of relief, delivered UConn’s first 1-2-3 inning the following frame and Molina started to unravel in the seventh. He walked Ben Huber and Jake Studley to begin the inning and Texas Tech coach Tim Tadlock didn’t let it go any further, as he made the call to the bullpen to bring Brandon Beckel, owner of a 2.01 ERA, into the game.

A wild pitch moved Huber and Studley forward 90 feet each, which helped break the shutout, as Ryan Daniels, pinch-hitting for Bryan Padilla, grounded out to second. Penders then brought in a second consecutive freshman batter off the bench in Maddix Dalena and got into a 3-1 count by taking a few tempting pitches down in the zone. He got the fastball he was looking for and grounded it past a diving Kash for a second run.

Going ever deeper into the bench, Drew Kron was used as a pinch-runner and tried to steal second on the first pitch and was gunned down. Penders challenged, but the call stood as called, ending the frame.

That did not dissuade Penders, as after a leadoff single in the eighth, Korey Morton was off toward second on the first pitch of David Smith’s at-bat, but was safe. He moved to third on a flyout to right, but Freeberger was unable to tie the game.

The Huskies will face the loser of No. 2 Florida and Florida A&M in an elimination game at 12 p.m. on Saturday. Garrett Coe is the probable pitcher for UConn.