It’s not often that a series is won or lost on a Friday night, but that’s exactly what happened for UConn baseball this weekend at Butler. UConn overcame sloppy defensive play, a scuttling offense, and a three-run late-inning deficit to take game one of this series 8-7 on its way to a sweep of the Bulldogs.
“It comes down to believing you can get it done,” head coach Jim Penders said.
In the later innings, the sloppy play started to work in the Huskies’ favor, culminating in an inside-the-park home run from David Smith to put the Huskies ahead for the final time.
Butler got on board first with a two-run second inning, as UConn starter Austin Peterson did not have his best stuff that day. UConn got three runs back after three straight hits from Erik Stock, Ben Huber, and Casey Dana in the third and a solo home run from Smith in the fourth.
The Huskies could not get a break in the middle of the game: an overthrow at shortstop led to two unearned runs in the fifth inning, a double stretched past the diving grasp of Casey Dana in the bottom of the sixth to make it 5- 3 Butler, and two more runs scored on an infield error in the seventh inning to push the Bulldogs’ lead to four.
After almost an entire game of the ball not bouncing UConn’s way, things started to turn around. Matt Garbowski, the catcher serving as a DH, started off the inning with a hit and was replaced at first by Zach Stephenson. Kevin Ferrer, returning from injury, reached on a scoring error that scored Stephenson. Erik Stock followed up with an RBI single, then Casey Dana scored Stephenson with a sacrifice fly to complete the comeback.
Justin Willis took the mound in the bottom of the tenth and recorded his 11th save of the year, keeping the Huskies’ undefeated record on Fridays intact and their hopes of a regular-season conference title alive.
Saturday: UConn 14, Butler 5
After coming back from the brink of defeat in the opening game of the series, UConn baseball looked more like themselves on Saturday afternoon, earning a 14-7 victory.
The Huskies scored four runs in the first inning and ten runs from the third to the fifth in the blowout effort. Eight of nine Huskies recorded a hit and the meat of their order did most of the damage: Erik Stock, Casey Dana, Zach Bushling, and Ben Huber combined to go 11-for-16 with eight RBI.
Kevin Ferrer returned to the lineup for the first time since April 5 due to injury and did his part for the offense going 2-for-4 with two RBI and a double.
Starting pitcher Pat Gallagher kept it steady with the run support, going 7.1 innings and earning the win despite giving up five earned runs. Jimmy Wang provided some solid outs in relief, going 1.2 innings and allowing a single earned run on one hit.
Sunday: UConn 17, Butler 4
UConn baseball picked up right where it left off on Saturday with another big victory on Sunday, 17-4.
The Huskies kicked off a home run derby on a picture-perfect Sunday morning, with a solo long ball from Kevin Ferrer in the sixth and a Casey Dana grand slam in the seventh inning contributing to the beatdown.
Sunday’s game was tight until the later innings: UConn got on board first with a two-run first inning that included an RBI single from first baseman Ben Huber and a double from Matt Donlan, and Dana would follow it up with a sacrifice fly in the second.
But the Bulldogs stormed back immediately after with an assist from the UConn defense: errors in the fourth and fifth innings allowed the leadoff Butler man to reach on both occasions, and on both occasions, he came around to score.
The Huskies had a slim 5-3 lead heading into the ninth inning, when they broke it open, sending 11 batters to the plate and scoring nine runs on five hits and four walks.
Dana led the offense, going 3-for-4 and Kevin Ferrer continued his hot hitting with a 2-for-6 night with three RBI. Enzo Stefanoni earned the win with 5.1 innings of one-run ball, pounding the strike zone with four strikeouts and no walks.
UConn will skip the midweek games this week to give their players a much-needed rest and will be back in action on Friday on Creighton in the first of two important home series.
The Huskies are top of the Big East at 11-1, and Creighton stands at 10-2. The winner of their weekend series will be in pole position for the No. 1 seed in the Big East tournament.