Tulane Game 1 Highlights and Takeaways

UConn Baseball kicked off conference play against Tulane this afternoon and notched a 9-4 win behind a strong performance from Anthony Kay. Here are some of my takeaways from Game 1.

  • Anthony Kay may have had his best outing of the season. Kay started the game, 16 up, 16 down. He did run into trouble in the 6th when he lost his control, walking three batters. With the bases loaded and a 3-1 count, Kay had to lay a 91 mph fastball over the plate, that Grant Witherspoon crushed for a Grand Slam.
  • Other than that Kay was special. He was moving his fastball to both sides of the plate and was able to change eye levels as well.
  • His changeup had devastating downward movement that had the Green Wave hitters off balance.
  • CJ Dandeneau looked solid out of the pen. Two more scoreless innings logged for Dandeneau, allowing one hit and striking out a batter.
  • Dandeneau continues to work himself into bigger roles for the Huskies out of the bullpen.
  • With Kay’s lengthy performance and Dandeneau closing things out, the Husky bullpen is fresh with a doubleheader coming up tomorrow.
  • Offensively, the Huskies got going behind the bat of John Toppa. Toppa, came up with a two-out RBI single in the 2nd, giving the Huskies a 1-0 lead. Then drilled a two-run double to CF in his second AB.
  • Toppa told me, he wanted to stay simple. Spray balls up the middle and to the opposite field.
  • The Huskies were also the beneficiary of three Tulane errors. At times this season, the Husky bats haven’t been able to capitalize on defensive miscues. But today they did, scoring three runs on two of those miscues.
  • Joe DeRoche-Duffin had a big game for the Huskies as well. He had his first multi-hit game in 8 ballgames and has extended his hit streak to a season-high six games. Joe came a couple feet away from homering to dead-center field on his RBI 2B.
  • Aaron Hill also collected his first multi-hit game of the season, picking up his 10th RBI of the season.
  • One of the key at bats of the ballgame was Bobby Melley’s two-out RBI single to RF in the sixth. After Yahn dropped down a beautiful sacrifice bunt, that should have moved runners up to second and third, Aaron Hill got too antsy on the bases and got caught in a rundown between home and third. Melley picked up his teammate with the base hit and extended UConn’s lead back to four runs.

USC Highlights

William & Mary Game 2 Highlights

William & Mary Game 1 Highlights

Liberty Game 3 Highlights and Takeaways

The UConn Baseball team just fell short in claiming a solid series win over Liberty this past weekend. The Huskies completed a five-run comeback on Saturday to even up the series before falling just short of coming back from three runs down on Sunday.

The Huskies head into their home opener against Yale looking to get back in the win column. Here are some things to keep an eye on after a series loss to Liberty.

Starting rotation

What is the state of UConn’s starting staff? Anthony Kay isn’t going anywhere, he had a tough couple innings on Friday, but that should be more of a worry for the opponent facing him next, than for Husky fans. At some point it is the opponent that you have to credit for the rough start. 1-6 in the Liberty order, really saw the ball well the second and third time through the order against Anthony. Expect Kay to be back to is usual self next weekend.

The rest of the rotation though is a bit worrisome. Wills Montgomerie had a real tough time finding the strike zone on Saturday (2 bb’s and 3 HBP’s). This was his first start his year where he struggled with his control. Prior to Saturday, his K/BB ratio was 18/1. I’m not ready to jump off the Montgomerie train, I think he is still going to be a big piece of the rotation moving forward. This weekend is a big early season start for him, to show he can quickly move forward from his worst outing of the year.

The Sunday spot is very intriguing. Zapata has gotten off to a rough start and lost his role after the first two weekends. It seems far too often that when Zapata gets to two strikes he makes his worst pitch of the at-bat. Usually he gets hurt by throwing a pitch that is right out over the plate, instead of expanding the zone and getting the hitter to chase.

Easier said than done, but if Zapata wants to win back the weekend role, he will have to show that he can make those pitches and be able to focus in mentally when things get tough.

Rossomando showed flashes yesterday but his walk numbers were way too high. If Ronnie is able to control the walk totals, I see him working out well as a starter. Sometimes yesterday, it looked as if Ronnie was rushing himself out on the hill. Again, this was his first career start, so jitters and nerves will definitely be there.

If Ronnie is able to get back to slowing the game down, we won’t see some of the pitches we saw yesterday (high fastballs nowhere close to the zone).

Tim Cate may also be threating to jump into the weekend role. Cate was the only Husky over the weekend to go an extensive amount of time putting up zeros on the scoreboard (4.2 innings, 0 ER). I think if Cate is able to perform that way a couple more times out of the pen, the Huskies may have found the starter they need. IMG_0271[1]

Bullpen

How about the bullpen? Not only this weekend, but so far this season, the bullpen has been exceptional. We mentioned Cate already, but Devin Over, Nico Darras, Randy Polonia, Doug Domnarski, CJ Dandeneau and flashes from John Russell. All of these guys were able to have an impact and keep the Huskies within striking distance.

One guy that hasn’t gotten off to a great start yet out of the bullpen is P.J. Poulin. The kid has had some tough luck to start his career, but I fully expect that Poulin is going to be a lefty force for Connecticut. I think all P.J. needs is that first scoreless inning under his belt. Once Poulin is able to experience that, he will settle down and be the pitcher that we all know he is. Look for this weekend, or even Yale, to be that outing that allows P.J. to take off.

Next week we will see the return of Pat Ruotolo as well. The Huskies will have the luxury of bringing in an experienced reliever who is such a weapon out of the pen. Ruotolo, as of now, is eligible to return next week against USC.

Trevor Holmes unfortunately is still working himself back from injury. It doesn’t look like we will see Trevor pitching this spring break. If/when the Huskies get him back, that will be another quality arm, with experience, to add to an already deep bullpen.

Offense

The offense was frustrating, at times, to watch this weekend. Especially, when the Huskies got a runner on third and less than two outs. It seemed, for most of the weekend, that UConn’s worst at bats came in these situations. By my count, the Huskies were 0-6 with 5 strikeouts, in those situations. The only time they didn’t strikeout? Alex Lefevre grounded into an inning-ending double play.

The Huskies only came up with a base hit one time after not getting in the run with less than two outs (Bryan Daniello, two-run single in the 11th inning on Saturday).

That leads me into my next offensive topic: Bryan Daniello.

How about the final two games for Daniello? He had two of the three biggest at bats during the game on Saturday (two-run triple and game-winning, two-run single). Daniello backed it up with a 2-4 performance on Sunday, that included being robbed of a potential third hit. Hopefully, the start, to a breakout senior year for Daniello.

I think the weekend for the offense is not something to panic about, at least not yet. If the Husky bats are able to come through with runners on third and less than two outs, it is a completely different series. Probably one, that sees the Huskies win two out of the three. If the Huskies can correct those at bats, then they will continue to score plenty of runs to win.

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Liberty Game 2 Highlights

Liberty Game 1 Takeaways and Highlights

A tough opener for the Huskies against Liberty today, falling to the Flames 8-5. What I saw from the series opener.

  • Strikeouts were a problem for the Huskies, striking out 12 times against Flames pitchers. And it seemed like strikeouts came at the most inopportune times for Connecticut. In the first inning, Bryan Daniello struck out with the bases loaded and one away. A couple pitches later, the Flames caught a break on a wild pitch that ricocheted back to the catcher, Barbee, and he was able to feed Bean to get Melley on a close play at the plate. Who knows how the game goes if UConn tacks on a few more runs in the first.
  • Troy Stefanski struck out with the bases loaded and two outs in the fourth and Joe DeRoche-Duffin struck out looking in the ninth with Melley in scoring position.

 

  • Anthony Kay did not have his best outing for UConn. The third inning all happened so quickly for Kay. After back-to-back K’s the Liberty offense exploded with five straight hits, scoring four runs.
  • Going into the fifth inning, the Huskies trailed 4-3 after a HR from Bobby Melley, momentum was on UConn’s side but Kay issued a leadoff walk and the middle of the order was able to do damage against him. Scoring three runs against the UConn left-hander

 

  • CJ Dandeneau and John Russell were both solid out of the pen. Dandeneau was able to feature that slow breaking ball and back it up with the fastball. He got himself into a mini jam but was able to escape without a blemish.
  • Russell meanwhile, pitched an 1.2 and struck out three batters. It was an impressive UConn debut for the sophomore.

 

Ultimately, the Husky offense will have to take advantage of what Liberty gives them this weekend. The Huskies worked eight walks, stole a base and reached on an error. If UConn is able to get that kind of help from the Flames tomorrow, they will need to cash in more often if they want to even the series up.

The Flames had two crooked number innings today. If Husky pitching can limit those innings, the team should be in good shape. One of the key guys that UConn will have to solve is D.J. Artis. He was on-base all five times today (2-2, 3 BB’s). If the Huskies can keep him off the bases, that will make things much easier when the middle of the order hits.

 

Liberty Series Preview

UConn (4-2) AT Liberty (5-4)

Pitching Matchups

 

Friday: Anthony Kay (1-0, 0.75 ERA) vs. Parker Bean (0-0, 1.59 ERA)

 

Saturday: Wills Montgomerie (1-0, 5.73 ERA) vs. Evan Mitchell (0-1, 3.18 ERA)

 

Sunday: Ronnie Rossomando (First Career start) vs. Victor Cole (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

 

Liberty is one of the top programs from the Big South Conference. They, along with Coastal Carolina, are the cream of the crop when it comes to the conference. Liberty was closing in on their third straight NCAA Tournament appearance, when the team had a brutal stretch to end the season (losing two series, before going two and barbecue in the Big South Tournament).

Though the Flames lost their best pitcher from that team, Jared Lyon (8-2, 1.99 ERA, 99.2 inns, 100k’s), they still have a good crop of arms to lean on. Based on what I’ve seen from Liberty pitching, they remind me of the Mississippi State team that went to Omaha a few seasons ago. That Bulldogs team was content to get three or four solid innings from their starters before handing the ball to their bullpen.

14….yes, 14 pitchers have tossed three innings or more in the first nine games of the season. The most innings for a pitcher is 8.1 innings (Murphy, Crouse). Keep an eye on this as we progress through the series.

An intriguing matchup will be the power bats of the Flames vs. UConn pitching. Kowalo, Yacyk and Will Shepherd each have two HR’s a piece and the team has racked up 17 doubles on the season. But like many power hitting teams, Liberty does strikeout, 66 times the Flames have punched out this season.

UConn pitchers racked up double-digit strikeouts in each of their games last weekend. Husky pitching has had recent success in these types of matchups (different personnel but did very well against Kennesaw State and UCF last season). Based on teams that UConn has faced this year, I would compare them to Missouri State. Sparkplug at the top of the order (D.J. Artis) and then a slew of guys who can drive the gaps or hit the ball out of the yard.

Another comparison, as well, to Missouri State, Liberty is patient and draws their fair share of walks (39). This could impact UConn starters and their pitch count. Will Kay, Montgomerie and Rossomando be able to mix in the strikeouts with some quick outs, while also not giving up the free 90’s? If the Huskies do that they should be in good shape.

 

I fully expect this weekend to be a tight series, like what we had opening weekend at UTSA. I know the offense has been clicking on all cylinders, but as Coach Penders mentioned, offense can be good contagious and bad contagious. Based on probability, you would think the UConn offense would cool off a bit this weekend. And why not, the offense was hitting at an all-time, historic, clip last weekend. It would be extremely difficult to keep up that rate.

With that said, the Huskies have given indications that they can win the close ballgames that are imminent. Two-out hitting has been crucial for UConn to start the season. Even with the struggles in UTSA, the Husky offense was able to come up with clutch two-out knocks to bring in runs.

Another development that we haven’t seen much but I think will be critical this weekend….base stealing. Opponents of Liberty swiped 13-16 bags to start the year. When Sundberg, Hill, Daniello and Yahn get on, expect to see them test the Flames on the bases. Also keep an eye out for first to third movement and Coach Penders being aggressive and sending runners. These extra bases are always crucial, but especially on the road in close games, they can really turn the tide.

Anticipating close games this weekend, how will the Huskies line up the back end of their bullpen?

Don’t be shocked if we start to see Randy Polonia take over the closer role. Polonia embraced the role in his collegiate debut against UTSA, picking up the save. With a devastating slider, good fastball and a closer-type mentality, Polonia could make this bullpen extremely deep. Maybe the deepest it has been since the likes of Fischer, Oberg and Vance were at the back end of the pen.

The move would allow Darras and Over to pitch in set up roles that both have excelled in throughout their UConn careers.

Over was impressive last week after walking the first batter he faced. Over was quickly able to turn the page and get the Huskies out of a big jam in the 7th inning against Missouri State. The stuff has never been the issue for Over, bad luck with injuries has always limited him. We all hope the guy can catch a break and stay healthy this year. If he can, UConn will be able to preserve their late game leads.

Rajkowski and Riley have also been impressive for the Huskies in their initial stints. If both guys can continue to pitch well, UConn has a bunch of options to go to when others pitchers hit a slide.

Imagine all these guys throwing well, combined with the return of Pat Ruotolo. That is a scary situation for teams trailing late in ballgames to the Huskies.

It looks like Ronnie Rossomando will make his first career start on Sunday. The freshmen has been stellar out of the bullpen for UConn. Pitching five innings, 0 ER, opponents hitting .211 against him. Remember, there will be bumps in the road for a freshmen, Anthony Kay had his fair shares of failures during the course of his freshmen season. These moments will result in growth for the freshmen and allow him to prosper even more down the stretch.

With that said, I fully expect Ronnie to come out and dictate his game. If he is able to do that, UConn has their Sunday starter for the rest of the season.

Another note heading into the series, Tim Cate (Cheney Tech) heads out on his first trip of the season. Seeing Cate pitch in the championship series for the Bristol Blues over the summer was a treat. Cate hasn’t been 100 percent entering the season, so look for the UConn coaches to ease him into action. There is no guarantee we will see the freshmen left-hander pitch this weekend. But he is an impact piece, which allows the Huskies to have another lefty out of the bullpen with Riley and Poulin.

Should be a fun series in Lynchburg!

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