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Texas Longhorns baseball hosts UCONN

The Huskies are a deceptively good ball club that could pose challenges for the ‘Horns.

Morgan Cooper pitches against Rice on Opening Day.
Brian Hoang

Texas Longhorns baseball will face UConn at the Disch in a three game series which kicks off Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. CST. The ‘Horns (3-2) are coming off of a 7-2 victory against Sam Houston State on Wednesday.

UConn (3-1) is not a traditional baseball powerhouse, but the Huskies posted an impressive 38-25 record and won the American Athletic Conference championship to advance to the NCAA tournament a season ago. The Huskies were led by pitcher Anthony Kay, but he has since left for the pros after being a first round pick by the Mets.

In UConn’s opening weekend against UMass Lowell, the Huskies took three of four games. However, the Huskies couldn’t complete the sweep after shaky pitching and windy weather led to Lowell winning the final game 11-8. UMass Lowell is a team transitioning from Division 2 to Division 1 and only notched a 20-32 (5-19 conference) record in 2016, so dropping the final game did sting a bit for the Huskies who otherwise had a solid weekend.

We decided to do this weekend’s preview a little differently and had a Q&A with the UConn Blog’s baseball beat writer, Shawn McGrath.

Burnt Orange Nation: What outcome would you be happy with for UCONN against Texas this weekend? What outcome do you expect?

The UConn Blog: I honestly expect UConn to steal a series win in Austin. This is a good team, they dominated UMass Lowell in their first three games of the year and lost a bullpen game in the fourth. They have a really strong starting rotation and have the offensive capability to put up 5-6 runs per game, especially if John Toppa comes back from injury, as he missed last weekend with a shoulder problem.

BON: UCONN is 3-1 after a series with UMass Lowell, but the Huskies lost their final game 11-8. What happened in that game, and are you overall happy with the series?

TUCB: Doug Domnarski, who started that game, had trouble with the wind and after he allowed six runs on six hits in one-plus innings, it turned into a bullpen game. The wind created some home run balls that might have been fly-outs on a more calm day and the River Hawks benefitted from that more than UConn did. I am happy with the series, it’s really, really hard to beat the same team four times in a row and they won the three games with what I think should be their weekend rotation moving forward.

BON: What do you think is UCONN's ceiling and floor this year?

TUCB: I think this is a team, depending on their Regional placement, that might be able to sneak into Supers. Their series was against Lowell, who is in the final year of the four-year Division 2 to Division 1 transition, so it’s not like they took three of four from Florida State or anything. However, I think this team, especially with how the important freshmen performed, that will compete in the American and almost definitely make the NCAA Tournament.

BON: Is UCONN going to miss its stud starter Anthony Kay as much as people think? What's the pitching depth like for the Huskies?

TUCB: They’ll certainly miss him. He was one of the best collegiate pitchers in 2016 and was a first-round selection and it’s wicked hard to replace that. The depth is good, though. Tim Cate, the Friday guy, was a Freshman All-American last year and Wills Montgomerie is a well-regarded junior. Mason Feole was the Gatorade Player of the Year in Rhode Island in 2016 and they have a closer in Ronnie Rossomando who can touch 97 m.p.h. with his fastball. John Russell has also shown ability as a set-up man and there are other depth pieces too, should it get that far.

BON: Who is a guy on offense that will cause the most trouble for Texas pitchers?

TUCB: Anthony Prato, a freshman shortstop, had a great slash-line in his first collegiate series, hitting .545/.706/.909. He also stole five bases without being caught. If John Toppa returns, he will be dangerous as he was a .300 hitter as a freshman last season. Isaac Feldstein also has some pop. Willy Yahn would be on this list, but he broke a bone in his hand the Saturday before the season started and likely won’t be back until the Huskies’ Spring Break trip to California.

BON: What starters do you expect for UCONN this weekend?

TUCB: Lefty Tim Cate and Wills Montgomerie are locked into the first two weekend slots. At preseason media availability, head coach Jim Penders said that Doug Domnarski had the Sunday spot, but after comparing his performance to Mason Feole’s, it will be interesting to see whether he wants to stick with the senior left-hander or give the ball to the freshman on Sunday. I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t know who’s going to go until Sunday morning.

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My Projected Lineup

  1. David Hamilton SS
  2. Kody Clemens DH
  3. Ryan Reynolds 3B
  4. Kacy Clemens 1B
  5. Joe Baker 2B
  6. Travis Jones LF
  7. Patrick Mathis RF
  8. Michael Cantu C
  9. Austin Todd CF

Be on the lookout for senior outfielder/infielder Zane Gurwitz to return to the line-up. He’s day-to-day with a hamstring injury.

My Projected Starters for Texas

Friday — Morgan Cooper

Saturday — Kyle Johnston

Sunday — Blair Henley

My Projected Series Outcome

The UConn Blog believes its Huskies will take the series in Austin, but that result would be a very disappointing blow for the Longhorns. Though the ‘Horns didn’t look flawless against Rice, the team does have some momentum, and I don’t see Texas struggling this weekend. I say Texas takes two of three, but I don’t think the sweep is entirely out of question.

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You can catch the game on the Longhorn Network or 104.9 the Horn.

Hook ‘Em!