In a weekend series marred by two halted games, a rain delay and less-than-desirable field conditions, the UConn baseball team (12-12, 2-3 the American) split a pair of conference games with Rutgers (9-13, 2-3 the American), losing 7-5 in game one before riding a wave at hits and runs to an 11-4 victory on Saturday afternoon.
Weather proves fickle once again
March in New England – perhaps every baseball player’s least-favorite four words – upheld its notoriously unpredictable reputation last weekend, as spitting rain, steel gray skies and temperatures in the 40s made for miserable playing conditions.
UConn head coach Jim Penders said he was unhappy with the way his team handled the adverse playing conditions in the first game of the series, which was halted in the top of the seventh inning on Friday and then resumed and finished Saturday morning.
“We let [the weather] affect us, I thought. On certain plays, there was an infielder or two that I thought was letting it affect them, and that can’t happen,” Penders said. “It’s not like we’re not used to this. We’re used to this, and you have to find a way to embrace it.”
Penders said he thought the Huskies could have better used the weather to their advantage instead of to their detriment, given that the Scarlet Knights play their home games on turf instead of on grass, a trickier and more temperamental surface.
“Rutgers is used to [the weather] too, but they play on a nice artificial turf field and we don’t, so we’ve got to embrace the fact that we don’t and they’re not used to it,” Penders said. “I thought [Rutgers] was the tougher of the two teams in the first game, and that’s something that’s really hard to stomach in this program. We need to be a little bit tougher with the elements.”
After getting through game two without a hitch, the two teams were only able to reach the bottom of the first inning in game three, which was halted and planned to be resumed on Sunday morning. But Mother Nature thought differently, and proceeded to dump nearly three inches of rain across the state, overpowering the already–soaked field and extinguishing any hope of completing the series.
Marzi posts seven strong innings
Senior left–hander Anthony Marzi drew the start for UConn in game two of the series on Saturday, going seven strong innings and earning his third win of the season. The game marked the second consecutive start in which Marzi has lasted seven frames, with the southpaw last doing so on March 22 against South Florida.
Marzi finished with perhaps his best line of the season to date, tossing six strikeouts – giving him a team leading 38 on the season – along with two runs and no walks. He didn’t surrender a hit until the top of the fifth inning, finishing the game having allowed five.
“He gives us leadership on the mound, he’s a very deliberate kid. He’s not real quick when he’s on the mound, he can get into ruts and funks, and he didn’t get into any real ruts and funks [on Saturday], and we needed that, we needed him to pitch a clean game,” Penders said of Marzi’s performance. “No walks, that might be a first for him. He was very good, and it was exactly what we needed to give us a chance to rebound from a terrible first game.”
If there was one thing Marzi was not short on in game one, it was run support, as the Huskies’ racked up three multi-run innings – most notably a five-run bottom of the fifth – en route to the 11-4 victory.
“It’s a lot easier to pitch with a lead, especially early on. So (sophomore first baseman Bobby) Melley’s three-run double helped me out a lot,” Marzi said. “After that you’ve just got to worry about throwing strikes. Those guys will get themselves out and it also just takes all the energy out of their dugout, so getting up is huge.”
Melley continues to mash
Fresh off being named to the American Athletic Conference Honor Roll last Monday, sophomore first baseman Bobby Melley extended his offensive hot streak against Rutgers, finishing the shortened series having gone 4-for-5 with six RBI’s, a home run, a double, three walks and three runs scored.
“We need him to hit, and he’s definitely stepped up,” Penders said of Melley and his growth from last season. “I think he’s stepping up into a leadership role.”
Penders said Melley – who now ranks in the top 10 in the conference in on-base percentage and putouts – has continued to be perhaps the Huskies’ most consistent performer on both offense and defense, and that his cerebral approach has shown in his recent success.
“He’s got an idea about how to play the game, he knows the intricacies of the game, he’s got a good feel even on defense, he knows where he’s supposed to be at all times, you don’t have to tell him more than once and sometimes you don’t even have to tell him once,” Penders said. “He’s usually in the right spot, he’s got a good feel for baseball. So it’s nice to have a guy like that gives you kind of a calm in the infield.
There’s a lot of guys that could learn a lot by following Bobby at the plate right now.”