First place is a fun place to be. That’s where the Cincinnati Bearcats find themselves as they enter the weekend. The UConn Huskies will be visiting for a three-game series with their aim set at knocking UC down a peg or two. Its up to the Bearcats to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Matchup: UConn Huskies (20-11-1, 5-4 AAC) at Cincinnati Bearcats (18-17, 7-5 AAC)
Location: Marge Schott Stadium Cincinnati, Ohio
Series History: Interestingly enough, the first time these teams faced each other was in 2006. That’s not all that long ago. Since then there have been 33 meetings, with UConn taking 21 of those. Last year, the Huskies took two of three.
- Game One - Friday April 20 6 p.m. J.T. Perez (3-3, 2.84) vs. Mason Feole (5-0, 2.96)
- Game Two - Saturday April 21 4 p.m. Nathan Kroger (1-2, 3.86) vs. Colby Dunlop (1-1, 2.51 ERA)
- Game Three - Sunday April 22 1 p.m. Cam Alldred (3-2, 4.10) vs. TBA
Who are the UConn Huskies?
Obviously since they are nationally ranked, the Huskies can play baseball just fine. They are one of six teams in the American Athletic Conference with at least 20 wins. They also are tied with East Carolina and two games back from UC, Houston and USF (who are all tied for first in the AAC) in the league standings. Last weekend, the Huskies took two of three from Wichita State and they followed that up with a midweek victory over UMass-Lowell. They have won five of their last seven.
UConn possesses a pretty balanced lineup that hinges in the middle around right fielder Isaac Feldstein. The redshirt senior is raking this season, and has developed into one of the most dangerous power hitters in the conference. He is tied with UCF’s Rylan Thomas for the league-lead in home runs (10) and has slashed .282/.372/.597 to go along with that. Feldstein has plenty of table setters around him, especially catcher Zac Susi (.319/.404/.387), center fielder Troy Stefanski (.306/.338/.446) and shortstop Anthony Prato (.294/.357/.375).
The scouting report for the Huskies will warn of their aggressive approach. They do not walk all that often but are still very good at getting the bat on the ball and putting it in play. It will fall on UC’s pitchers to take advantage and try to get the Huskies to chase pitches out of the zone.
Entering the season, UConn’s ace was supposed to be Tim Cate, but he is sidelined right now and was only pitching to a 3.70 ERA when healthy. That’s a solid mark, but not what UConn expected from him. In his stead, Mason Feole has stepped up, throwing 51 2⁄3 innings with a 2.96 ERA and 63 strikeouts. He also is 5-0 for you win-loss junkies out there. The rest of the pitching staff has its bright spots (Colby Dunlop), but they have not been great at stopping runs, especially closer P.J. Poulin, who has nine saves and 29 strikeouts in 24 1⁄3 innings, but also sports a 4.44 ERA.
Game One Preview
Feole steps to the hill tonight and he will lock horns with UC’s own ace J.T. Perez. Against UCF last week, Perez failed to make it three-straight games with at least seven innings pitched, as he allowed four runs over 6 2⁄3 frames. He also walked four batters, which was the second-most he has allowed this season. There’s a possibility that Perez could go the effectively wild route and keep UConn’s hitters off balance.
Feole’s most difficult challenge will be cooling Manny Rodriguez down. The UC shortstop is working on a season with 23 extra-base hits and a slash line of .319/.387/.622. He is ranked fifth in the conference in slugging percentage, which actually puts him two spots above UConn’s slugger, Feldstein.
Game Two Preview
If there is a pitcher that has to be the most careful with Feldstein it is Nathan Kroger. UC’s Saturday starter has allowed a team-high seven home runs this season, including a grand slam in his last start against UCF. That blow ruined a strong stretch from the sophomore right-hander, who had allowed one run in 13 innings combined during his previous two outings. But against UCF he allowed six runs over five innings, pushing his ERA up to 3.86 and giving him his second loss of the campaign.
As mentioned previously, Dunlop has been effective for the UConn pitching staff. He is 2-1 with a 2.51 ERA inb 14 1⁄3 innings this season, including two starts. He will take the ball on Saturday for the Huskies.
Game Three Preview
The series finale is a bit of a wild card, as UConn has not scheduled a starter yet. The Bearcats will put Cam Alldred out as their starter. Alldred has eaten innings for sure and shown more flare with his strikeout stuff, punching out 51 in 48 1⁄3 innings overall. However, despite the Ks, he has allowed seven combined runs in his last 10 innings.
Before we get to predictions, another batter besides Rodriguez that will help dictate how this weekend goes for the Bearcats is Kyle Mottice. The speedy second baseman has been excellent in the leadoff spot, hitting for average (.312) and getting on base at a great clip (.415 OBP). He also has 11 steals on 12 attempts. He will set the tone from Friday to Sunday.
UConn is not a team to be overlooked, especially with the prestige of a national ranking. While the Huskies aren’t at full strength, they are still clearly a team that can win ball games, especially if Feldstein gets a hold of a few mistakes. UC has been helped by a strong rotation for most of the season, but that strength turned into a weakness last weekend. More of the same could be in store, but I’d expect the Bearcats to get at least one good start and take one game this weekend.