UConn bats heat up to take final two games of series
It took a bit longer than the Connecticut baseball team would like, but by the end of yesterday's series finale with Rutgers, the Scarlet Knights understood why the Huskies own the top spot in the Big East.
Fourteen runs in the final two games of the three-game set led to two consecutive wins for UConn and marked another letdown for head coach Fred Hill and his reeling squad.
"At this stage of the season, every loss is tough," Hill said after yesterday's 6-2 defeat. "I thought we had a chance to play well against them after beating them on Friday, but we just didn't hit. We had a couple of opportunities early, but we just didn't cash in."
Through the first four innings of play at Bainton Field, each squad owned just two hits apiece in a scoreless ballgame.
But the game unraveled for Rutgers (15-25, 7-11) junior righthander Nathaniel Roe in the top half of the fifth, when UConn rallied to smack five hits and plate four runs in the frame — all with two outs.
The Huskies (31-13-1, 15-3) tacked on two more runs in the sixth inning off a single by junior sensation George Springer, who knocked in three runs and spelled the end of Roe's day after 5 and 2/3 innings of work.
"They're a good ball club — it's pretty evident," Roe said. "At that point [in the fifth], we were just leaving balls up, and when the hitters are able to see the ball up, they're a good enough team to adjust. They just hopped all over it."
A run by the Knights in the eighth off an infield single by senior third baseman D.J. Anderson plated senior rightfielder Michael Lang and cut the UConn lead to five, which the Knights chipped at even further in the ninth.
But three runs were all the Knights earned, as the same inconsistencies plagued the lineup a day earlier in Piscataway.
A two-hit day for Hill's lineup in Game 2 led to just two runs on the afternoon — way off of UConn's pace in the contest.
The Huskies smacked 13 hits in the contest, including three home runs, to wreak havoc on sophomore lefty Rob Smorol, who went seven innings and allowed five earned runs in a 8-2 defeat.
"They have a very good lineup," Hill said. "From top to bottom, they can swing the bats a little bit and you really have to do well."
The Knights faced perhaps their toughest task of the season on Friday in Game 1, when they welcomed top Big East pitcher Matt Barnes and one of the best bats in the conference in Springer.
The Huskies entered the series on a 12-game winning streak, and with Barnes, who owned a 0.92 ERA entering the contest, on the mound, that streak appeared safe.
But with a slew of Major League Baseball scouts on hand to see him deal, the hard-throwing righty struggled with his location, allowing three walks, hitting two players and giving up six hits.
Two of those hits belonged to Anderson, who recorded five RBI in the win to bump his total to a team-high 22.
Anderson's offensive carry-over from Delaware, paired with the rest of the squad's burst, led to an eventual 8-3 loss for Barnes and the Huskies.
"Once we put up some runs it felt pretty good," said sophomore righthander Tyler Gebler, who bested Barnes for his first loss in nine outings. "We came out and swung. We didn't worry about what he was throwing. It felt good to go deeper into a game than him, but he's a good pitcher. He'll bounce back."
While it was Barnes who drew the crowd and the attention prior to the contest, Gebler stole the show once the game began.
The Knights' ace allowed nine hits in his third complete game of the season, as he struck out five and allowed just three earned runs to some of the top bats in the Big East, specifically Springer.
Springer entered Game 1 with a 21-game hitting streak, but Gebler paid no mind and blanked the UConn star en route to a 0-for-4 day from the plate.
Though scouts may not have left Bainton Field with the best impression of Barnes, who many project to be a first-round MLB Draft pick, they certainly got a look at the guy who out-dueled him.
"I don't throw as hard as him, so they're probably not as impressed, but it definitely got me a look," Gebler said.
But following yesterday's loss, the Knights are now tied for 10th in the Big East with Seton Hall and need to make up some serious ground in their final three conference series against Notre Dame, Villanova and West Virginia if they hope to qualify for the conference tournament.
As losers of seven of their past eight contests, the Knights just have to start winning, according to Hill.
"We've got to win some games," he said. "We have three series where we can do very well in all of them. It's just a matter of being able to go out and do it."