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Timely hitting missing in UConn baseball’s NCAA Tournament opener

The Huskies’ offense went quiet at the worst times on Friday.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn baseball has relied on its offense all season. When the Huskies score more than five runs, they’re 40-5, but are just 3-11 when they fail to reach that mark. That trend continued as the Storrs nine fell 3-2 to Texas Tech on Friday in the team’s NCAA Tournament opener.

It was a game that looked like it was going to be high-scoring before it started with two elite offenses that can run up the score, but Stephen Quigley and Zach Fogell did enough to combine for eight innings and three runs allowed. There was plenty of traffic with Quigley issuing two walks and coughing up seven hits in 4 13 innings but they escaped innings with limited damage — Texas Tech crossed the plate once in the first and twice in the fifth.

The starter on the other side, Mason Molina, did more than that. He cut through a strong UConn offense like butter. He retired 17 of the first 18 hitters he faced and the only exception, Luke Broadhurst, reached on an error when second baseman Austin Green flubbed a pop-up in the second that Gage Harrelson probably should have taken charge on from right field.

Ben Huber was the first hitter to even get into a three-ball count, doing so with two down in the fourth. The Huskies weren’t working counts and were being over-aggressive against the left-handed Molina. There were seven right-handed hitters and a switch-hitting David Smith, but it didn’t matter.

Once the lineup turned over for the third time — which is often when batting averages and slugging percentages leap against a starting pitcher — UConn showed some signs of life, but it ultimately wasn’t enough. Smith worked the count full and broke up the no-hitter with two down in the sixth with a grounder that bounced off Molina’s glove and got just far enough away to prevent a throw to first. Then, Paul Tammaro was hit by a pitch to put a runner on second base for the first time but Dominic Freeberger swung at the first pitch and popped up to end the inning.

Huber and Jake Studley each led off the seventh with free passes, which that was enough to chase Molina from the game. He finished with just 91 pitches across six-plus innings, surrendering one walk and the two base on balls. A wild pitch put two runners on second and third with nobody out, but Broadhurst failed to take advantage and stuck out.

Jim Penders went to his bench and brought out Ryan Daniels to pinch-hit for Bryan Padilla and the freshman’s ground out on a 3-2 count broke the shutout, while fellow freshman pinch hitter Maddix Dalena got a 3-1 fastball and brought in a second run. However, the rally was cut short when Texas Tech threw out pinch runner Drew Kron on a steal attempt at second.

Korey Morton led off the eighth with a single down the left field line and stole second which put him into scoring position as the tying run with nobody down, but a trio of flyouts ended the threat and the Huskies went down in order in the ninth.

The Huskies had just three hits and just two walks while only managing a total of seven baserunners overall.

Timely hitting has been a key to UConn’s success all year. The Huskies have 11 come-from-behind wins and have four wins when trailing after eight innings, relying on out-slugging their opposition and hoping the pitching could keep up. Despite Texas Tech’s high-flying offense, the opposite was the case on Friday.