Failure to capitalize with runners in scoring position, extra inning heartbreak and untimely errors defined the final two games of the UConn baseball team’s series against Temple, as the Owls came back from a game-one loss to win the series two games to one.
Redshirt junior Jordan Tabakman and freshman Anthony Kay drew the starts in games two and three, respectively, which the Huskies (18-19, 5-6 The American) lost 7-4 and 6-2, dropping them to No. 7 in the conference standings.
Despite allowing six hits, Tabakman pitched a relatively strong five innings on Friday, allowing only two earned runs and striking out one.
Head coach Jim Penders said Tabakman – who had missed a couple of weeks earlier in the season with a back injury – wanted to continue into the sixth inning, but that the coaching staff felt it was time to “mix it up” by going to the bullpen.
“He wasn’t quite Jordan,” Penders said. “I thought he was pitching better toward the end of that appearance than he did at the beginning. He just gave a few too many freebies up early and wasn’t in-sync. His fastball location was off. He battled through, but we need a little bit better length from him.”
UConn and Temple (12-19, 7-8 The American) traded runs early in Friday’s game, with the Owls putting numbers on the board in the first and second innings and the Huskies responding with runs in both the second and third.
Temple then pulled ahead in the late going, making it a 4-2 game after tallying runs in the top of the sixth and top of the seventh off UConn freshman righty Andrew Zapata, who relieved Tabakman after the fifth inning.
Still down by two runs in the bottom of the ninth and with sophomore third baseman Bryan Daniello on second base, junior outfielder Blake Davey stepped into the box, dug in and changed the game with one swing of the bat.
Davey swatted home run No. 8 of the season deep to left field, a shot that tied the game 4-4 in dramatic fashion and pushed it into extra innings.
Despite receiving a jolt of energy from Davey’s game-tying blast, the Huskies were unable to sustain any sort of offensive momentum in extra innings, despite having a prime opportunity to take the game in the bottom of the 12th.
Sophomore first baseman Bobby Melley led off the inning and was hit by a pitch. Freshman infielder Aaron Hill then pinch ran for Melley and advanced to second base on a Vinny Siena sacrifice bunt.
Temple then intentionally walked sophomore designated hitter Max McDowell, giving UConn runners on first and second with one out.
Freshman first baseman Ryan Sullivan was put in as a pinch hitter for freshman right fielder Griffin Garabedian. Sullivan rewarded the coaching staff by singling up the left field line to load the bases after junior catcher Connor David popped out in the preceding at bat.
With two outs and the game-winning run on third base, sophomore centerfielder Jack Sundberg popped out, ending the inning in anticlimactic fashion.
Penders said missed opportunities like Sundberg’s and others have been crippling UConn’s offensive strength and efficiency.
“It’s been abysmal how we’ve hit with runners in scoring position,” Penders said. “And if I had an answer as to how we can improve that we would have done it a while ago, because it’s been going on for weeks now and it’s really difficult and frustrating to watch.”
Despite a terrific performance from redshirt junior pitcher David Mahoney in relief, the Huskies ended up falling 7-4 after the Owls posted a three-run top of the 14th, concluding a game that lasted just over four-and-a-half hours.
The same offensive deficiencies that plagued UConn on Friday continued into Saturday, a game in which the Huskies scored just two runs and chalked up an uncharacteristic four errors.
Kay, a left hander, lasted 6.2 frames and allowed three earned runs against six strikeouts in his fifth start of the season, drawing the loss largely because of a lack of run support.
“I thought Anthony gave us a really good outing [Saturday],” head coach Jim Penders said. “[Temple] hit the ball hard off of him early, and I thought he made better pitches the longer he went. He really battled.”
Penders said Kay did an admirable job of preventing runners who got on base because of a UConn error from crossing home plate, and that he proved capable of digging his own defense out of error-fueled jams.
“He did a really good job of leaving runners our defense allowed to get on base to move with a couple of errors,” Penders said. “We had a first and third in the fifth (inning), one out, and he had a big hold there. I thought he made some pitches when he absolutely had to, and I thought he deserved a better effort and better performance from our defense.”
The top of UConn’s order, comprised of senior shortstop Tom Verdi and Daniello, went 0-for-9 in Saturday’s game, with Daniello getting on base just once after being walked in the bottom of the ninth inning.
“You’ve got to have your table setters set the table,” Penders said.
UConn’s offense was sparse once again on Saturday and runs were few and far between, with one runner crossing the plate in both the bottom of the third and bottom of the eighth in the 6-2 loss.
Davey continued to be one of the lone bright spots in the Huskies’ order on Saturday, going 3-for-4 with three singles in the loss, improving his season batting average to .375. He finished the series 8-for-15 with a home run, four RBIs and three runs scored.
Davey said he has taken on the role of tone setter for the UConn offense, having far and away been the lineup’s strongest offensive contributor in recent weeks.
“You kind of have to assume that role if you’re doing well,” he said. “And that goes for anyone who’s hitting well at any given moment. We just need more of it. We need more guys who are able to fill that role. It can’t just be one or two guys. You need the whole team to kind of come together and be able to hit, and if you don’t hit as a team it’s not really going to matter much.”
Davey minced no words when describing the mood in the lineup after Saturday’s loss.
“Defeated,” he said. “There’s no question we’re a more talented team than [Temple], and we just didn’t capitalize in certain situations. That led to two tough losses against a team that we should have taken the series against.”
UConn returns to action this afternoon against Central Connecticut State. First pitch is set for 3 p.m. at J.O. Christian Field. Coverage of the game can be heard on 91.7-WHUS.