UConn baseball started its season well, going 2-1 at the USF Baseball Invitational in Tampa. They eliminated the hosts on Friday and Louisville on Sunday, with a loss to Charlotte on Saturday.
Non-conference games are bigger than they were for UConn. After moving to the Big East, a weaker baseball league than the AAC, non-conference competitions have a bit more significance as they represent a greater proportion of available opportunities to improve their RPI and tournament recovery. These two wins will help UConn on that front.
The weekend featured a strong all-around performance from the UConn offense, combined with stellar individual performances from Friday’s departing Austin Peterson, relief rookie Ian Cooke and Harvard transfer Enzo Stefanoni on Sunday.
Here’s how the weekend went:
UConn 5, USF 4
UConn’s opener of the season had a postseason feel, as the Huskies beat South Florida on home turf after an extra home run from Casey Dana gave them a victory of 5-4.
“It was great to see him show some emotion. He did well, and it’s a great way to welcome him into the UConn uniform,” said head coach Jim Penders. .
After not quite connecting with a similar pitch on his previous at-bat, Dana connected with a grooved fastball to the middle of the plate, sending it over the center field wall.
“It’s electric, I don’t really have the words [for it]Dana said after the game. “But we’ll definitely take that feeling and run with it.”
The Huskies were down 4-2 in the seventh inning when center fielder TC Simmons started the comeback with a brace on the opposite court, his second of the game. Third baseman Chris Brown led it in with a double against the wall, then team captain Erik Stock, playing just two weeks after hand surgery, tied it at 4-4 with a bloop single to the left.
Stock finished the night 3 for 4 with a run and an RBI.
“It’s remarkable what he did tonight. [He’s] such a player, a badass, and our guys followed his lead,” Penders said.
To preserve the 4-4 tie, freshman Ian Cooke had a chance to show off his skills after coming on for transfer Cole Chudoba, who allowed three earned runs in the sixth. The man affectionately nicknamed the “Cookie Monster” made a pretty good first impression, pitching 2.2 scoreless innings, allowing just one hit and striking out four with a mean slider on display.
“He’s not afraid, and we found out [tonight]Penders said. “We gave him the ball and he didn’t look wide. It looked like he was going to get the job done, and he did.
UConn’s first two runs came on Simmons’ first double of the game in the second inning and a Dana single in the fourth. Simmons went 3-for-4 with two doubles and Dana finished the night 2-for-5 with two RBIs.
Starting the game, fourth-year junior Austin Peterson picked up where he left off in 2021, going 5.2 innings and allowing just one earned run, striking out 13 and coming out of tough jams in the first and third innings caused by uncertain infield defense look new.
Charlotte 7, UConn 3
UConn’s second game of the year ended in disappointment against a feisty Charlotte side, as the pitch crumbled in a 7-3 loss.
Erik Stock got UConn off to a good start early in the first with an RBI brace to lead David Smith, but the slim lead didn’t last long. Sophomore Pat Gallagher had a start to the season to forget, as three walks, two hits and an error led to four runs in the bottom of the first.
Sophomore Garrett Coe made his season debut out of the bullpen and settled things with 2.2 scoreless innings, allowing just one hit and two walks. Big right-hander Hector Alejandro continued the bullpen’s solid work with 2.1 scoreless innings, striking out four and allowing just one hit.
UConn’s offense tried to come back, but ultimately failed. First-year catcher Matt Garbowski’s two-run homer brought the Huskies within two runs in the fourth inning, but the Huskies missed their other scoring opportunities, blocking 11 runners on base in the game.
UConn 9, Louisville 2
After a mixed sack in the first two games of the weekend, the Huskies put on a performance worthy of an ace from Enzo Stefanoni to a 9-2 win over Louisville.
Stefanoni pitched on contact and hit his runs expertly with a fastball in the upper 80s and a slow eephus curve in the 60s, tossing 6.2 scoreless innings with eight strikeouts and leaving the game after having thrown only 96 pitches.
UConn’s offense jumped on Louisville’s pitching staff early and often, taking advantage of a Cardinals infield that was riddled with errors early in the season. La Salle transfer David Smith started the game with a brace and was sent home by an RBI single from shortstop Zach Bushling.
The Lake Isabella, Calif. elder added to the lead in the second, with a monster three-run home run in the second, sending home TC Simmons and Matt Donlan, who reached base on an error and a step respectively.
Freshman Jack Sullivan came into the game for Stefanoni in a high-leverage situation; the Huskies led 4-0 but with runners and first and second. He came out of the jam with a pop-up down the middle, and it was smooth sailing from there, finishing the night with 1.1 shutouts, no-hitter innings.
The Huskies got a few insurance runs in the seventh inning with a sacrificial fly from Chris Brown, then Donlan got his first hit in a UConn uniform in style with a three-run home run to left center to make it 8 -0 . The Huskies veered on another sacrificial fly in the eighth to make it 9-0, and after an unusually shaky outing from closer Justin Willis, clinched a 9-2 win.
Next, UConn travels to Jacksonville to take on North Florida in a three-game series starting Friday, Feb. 25.