Baseball: McDowell drives in three in UConn's win over Brown
UConn’s Tom Verdi slides into base during a baseball game last season. Verdi made his season debut Wednesday after missing the first 27 games due to a wrist injury and went 1-for-3 in the Huskies’ 7-4 win over Brown University at the J.O. Christian Field.
Led by five combined hits from third baseman Bryan Daniello, catcher Max McDowell and designated hitter Blake Davey, the UConn baseball team knocked off Brown University 7-4 at home yesterday afternoon, inching its record closer to .500.
Senior left hander Brian Ward took the mound for UConn (15-16, 2-3 The American), tossing 4.1 innings and surrendering eight hits and two walks against four strikeouts, pitching four consecutive scoreless innings before unraveling in the top of the fifth.
The Huskies' relievers - a group comprised of redshirt sophomores Max Slade and Devin Over, freshman Anthony Kay and redshirt junior David Mahoney - combined to go 5.2 innings and allow just one hit, four strikeouts and no runs.
"Brian Ward's going to give up hits, he's not going to blow it by anybody, but he didn't walk too many," head coach Jim Penders said. "Overall it was a good effort by the pitching staff."
Senior tri-captain Tom Verdi also made his return to lineup against the Bears (6-15, 0-8 Ivy) after missing UConn's last 27 games with a wrist injury. He drew the start at shortstop and batted leadoff, with normal leadoff man, sophomore centerfielder Jack Sundberg, moving down to the No. 9 spot.
Verdi finished the game having gone 1-for-3 with one run scored and three defensive assists.
"It was just great to see Tom Verdi back out there; that was the big thing for today," Penders said.
The Huskies jumped on Bears' starter Max Ritchie - a 6-foot-8 former Amity Regional High School star - early, scoring three runs in the bottom of the first.
Junior left fielder Eric Yavarone got UConn on the board first, plating Verdi on a groundout. Sophomore catcher Max McDowell then hit a shallow fly ball to right field that landed in a triangle of Brown fielders, scoring Daniello and sophomore first baseman Bobby Melley before freshman right fielder Griffin Garabedian grounded out to end the inning.
Finding himself in a small jam in the top of the third, Ward was able to escape with his run of scoreless innings in tact, thanks largely to a fantastic defensive play from Sundberg in center field.
With a runner on second base, Brown designated hitter Josh Huntley lined a shot to center that one-hopped into Sundberg's glove. The sophomore took a small crow hop and fired, throwing a dart that found McDowell at the plate just in time for him to make the out. The sophomore backstop laid on the tag, ending the inning and maintaining Ward's shutout bid.
Brown pulled Ritchie - who allowed four hits, four earned runs and three walks in two innings of work - after Daniello led off the bottom of the third with a solo home run that landed in the right field hedges, extending the Huskies' lead to four runs.
"I felt good coming into the game this afternoon," said Daniello, who also had a double and scored three runs. "I had a good [batting practice] today before the game, and lately I've just been trying to get good pitches to hit and attacking fastballs early in the count. And that's what happened today. I was in some advantage counts - 1-0, 2-1 - just looking for fastballs to hit hard, and the wind was blowing out a little bit, but it helped out a little. Just doing anything I can to get my team going."
Bears freshman right hander Jake Spezial - a submariner - replaced the struggling Ritchie in the bottom of the third, but had some early struggles of his own, hitting Davey with his first pitch in relief.
McDowell then batted in Davey - who had advanced to second base on a fielder's choice - on an RBI single, giving the catcher his second RBI of the game and the Huskies their fifth run of the afternoon.
Spezial then hit his second batter in the bottom of the fourth, beaning freshman second baseman Aaron Hill and prompting another Brown pitching change, as left hander Austin French took the mound from the pen.
After holding UConn scoreless in the bottom of the fourth, the Bears put their first run on the board in the top of the fifth, as second baseman J.J. Franco ripped an RBI single to left field, ending Ward's scoreless streak at 4.1 clean innings.
Brown continued to chip away at the Huskies' lead in the top of the fifth, racking up a second run and four total hits, making it a 5-2 game.
With the Bears mounting a comeback, Penders pulled Ward with the bases loaded in the top of the fifth, replacing him with redshirt sophomore right hander Max Slade.
Slade rescued the UConn defense and got Ward off the hook for the three runners he left on base after Brown shortstop Marc Sredojevic grounded into a double play, slowing the Bears' offensive momentum.
Despite Brown crawling back into the game in the fifth inning with a small offensive outburst, UConn was able to respond in kind and lengthen its once-decreasing lead.
Davey, who has been neck-in-neck with Melley this season for the title of UConn's best power hitter, blasted his team-leading fifth home run in the bottom of the fifth, a two-run shot that plated Daniello - who had reached second on a leadoff double - and made it a 7-2 game.
"Blake Davey's knock I thought, the home run right after they scored two, was really important," Penders said. "It hit them right back after they hit us."
Brown answered Davey's home run, however, with two more runs in the top of the sixth, shortening UConn's lead to three runs.
After two scoreless innings in the seventh and eighth, UConn lefty David Mahoney entered the game in the top of the ninth for the save and proceeded to pitch a 1-2-3 inning, striking out two and securing the win.
UConn returns to conference play this weekend with a three-game road set against Cincinnati. Coverage of the series can be heard on 91.7-WHUS.
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