Throughout the 2015 season, the UConn baseball team has epitomized the role of the road warrior. Playing 34 of their 37 games so far away from home, the Huskies have gone 24-13 overall and 5-4 in an extremely competitive American Athletic Conference.
“Forty-two of the last 62 days have been somewhere other than Storrs since February 12th,” head coach Jim Penders said. “ I don’t think another program in the country can say that. Now we are finally going to play some home games.”
That changes this weekend as the Huskies return to J.O. Christian Field with a critical three-game series against the East Carolina Pirates. The series marks the start of a nine-game home stand for Huskies, who last played at home April 7th in a 9-1 win over Northeastern.
Heading to Storrs for the first time in program history, the Pirates pose a unique problem for the Huskies. East Carolina boasts one of the best lineups in the American with a team batting average of .294, the second best in the conference. Luke Lowery leads the Pirates with a .355 batting average and eight home runs while slugging .636. The Pirates also rarely strike out, totaling just 193 strikeouts on the season, the second lowest total in the conference.
East Carolina’s ability to put the ball in play and limit strikeouts could cause trouble for the Huskies’ pitching staff, who have 315 strikeouts on the season, the second highest total in the American. Friday starter Carson Cross leads the American in strikeouts with 79, while Saturday starter Anthony Kay is third with 62. If the UConn starters can’t get strikeouts, they will have to adjust quickly to remain effective.
“They are primarily strikeout pitchers, so I think we’ll find out very quickly if, and it does look like these guys put the ball in play,” Penders said. “I don’t think Carson and Anthony should do anything different until the opponent makes them do something different, and if they’re putting the ball in play you have to trust the guys behind you to make plays.”
UConn returns home with just a one-game lead over the Pirates in the American standings, but luckily the Huskies return J.O. Christian Field as hot as ever. As winners of five of their last seven, UConn currently owns a two-game win streak after outscoring midweek opponents Fairfield and Bryant 25-7.
Centerfielder Jack Sundberg paved the way for Huskies in their 18-5 win over Bryant, recording his 14th multi-hit game of the year and knocking in a career-high five RBIs. Sundberg also added a walk and scored a run, and his ability to utilize his speed and get on base has helped him evolve into a deadly leadoff hitter.
“He’s the catalyst, and he’s also been very good in RBI situations,” Penders said of Sundberg. “He really sets the table for us.”
Vinny Siena continued his spectacular 2015 season in the win over Bryant, going 3-7 with three RBIs and a stolen base. Siena has now reached base safely in 28-straight games and ranks third in the conference with a .369 batting average. The second baseman also leads the American in hits and has helped transform UConn’s lineup into one of the best in the conference.
With ECU’s quality lefthanders and their ability to control the running game, Penders looks to stay aggressive on the bases with hit-and-runs with Sundberg on base and Siena at bat.
“When [Siena] does hit-and-run, he does hit the ball well to the right side, so sometimes we can go first to third if we execute on that,” Penders said. “I think you’ll see a few more hit-and-runs when we do see lefthanded pitching, that’s no secret, we like to do that.”
First pitch for Friday’s game is 3 p.m., followed by a 1 p.m. start Saturday and a noon first pitch on Sunday. All three games can be heard on WHUS 91.7 FM.