The UConn baseball team continues its early-season gauntlet this weekend with another trek down south for a three-game series with Florida in Gainesville, Fla.
The Gators (7-6, 0-0 SEC) fell out of the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association poll this week after being ranked as high as No. 23 in the country.
The Huskies (4-5, 0-0 AAC) earned one win in their most recent series last weekend against Lipscomb in Nashville, losing the final two contests of the three-game set – including a 14-1 defeat on Sunday in which the Bison racked up 10 hits and 12 runs in the the bottom of the eighth inning.
“If you look at the 28 innings that we played this past weekend, in the first 16 we were really, really good, but we came away with two losses, which is never what you want to see,” head coach Jim Penders said. “The guys have to understand that we did some things well that didn’t show up necessarily in the win-loss column, but the few things that we did really poorly certainly contributed to those losses, not to take anything away from Lipscomb.”
Penders said his team – which has had a somewhat up-and-down start to its season – will have to call on the same brand of resilience this weekend that it showed in the wake of the Feb. 14-16 Snowbird Classic in Port Charlotte, Fla., a tournament in which the Huskies went 0-3 and scored just five runs.
“They did a really good job of showing some resilience and some mental toughness after our first weekend, which was abysmal,” Penders said. “And then they came back and played very well down in Myrtle Beach, S.C., the following weekend. So I think they’ve got bounce back ability, and now we’ve got to bounce back again from a tough loss on Sunday.”
Penders said that in many ways the Gators are a team similar to UConn in that both rosters boast an abundance of freshmen and sophomores who have seen significant playing time thus far this season.
“They’re an athletic team that’s kind of scuffling a little bit, playing a lot of young guys kind of similar to us,” Penders said. “We’ve got a pretty good idea that we’re going to face some pretty good arms.”
Florida has also experienced its share of offensive struggles in its first 12 games this season, ranking last in the Southeastern Conference in team batting average (.251), on-base percentage (.320) and 10th out of 14 teams in total runs (50).
Defensively, Penders said that he has been pleased with what he’s seen from the front end of his pitching rotation – namely from top-three starters Jordan Tabakman, Anthony Marzi and Brian Ward – and that while there are some questions yet to be answered in the bullpen, the Huskies’ production on the mound will be key to suppressing the Gators’ relatively weak offense this weekend.
“I think our starting pitching has progressed every time out. Tabakman, Marzi and Ward all pitched well [last weekend] and deserved to win,” Penders said. “We’re starting to piece together who our late-inning guys are going to be, and I think that that will continue this weekend too, to see how the last three or four innings of a ball game are going to shape up for us from the standpoint of who we’re going to put out there on the mound.”
Penders said that this weekend’s series will provide UConn with another stiff test in the form of a solid Gators’ pitching staff, as well as a chance to prove that it can overcome the type of demoralization that losses like last Sunday’s can cause.
“We’re going to have some difficult arms that we’re going to be facing, but hopefully the guys can rise to the occasion,” Penders said.
The Huskies will take the field against Florida for the first game of the series on Friday at 7 p.m. Coverage of all three games can be heard on 91.7-WHUS.