March 9, 2012

Rankings are from CBI Composite Poll

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CBI Live: Illinois 2, No. 12 Oregon 1

CBI Live
Huskies Ward off Sooners

By Taylor Gelbrich


EUGENE, Ore. – Connecticut built a big lead against Oklahoma and held on at the end.


The Huskies (5-6) rode Brian Ward’s six-inning effort and survived a ninth-inning rally by the No. 17 Sooners (9-4) to claim an 8-7 victory Friday in the opener of the Nike College Showcase at PK Park.


Ward (3-0) allowed two earned runs on four hits and was able to keep the Sooners off balance all game. He spotted his fastball on both sides of the plate, but it was his nasty change-up that had the Sooners swinging and missing seven times.


“He was really painting corners throughout the game,” said UConn catcher Joe Pavone. “The change-up was working really well against Oklahoma. They are a really good hitting team and they were having trouble with it.”


“He has an excellent change-up,” said assistant coach Jeff Hourigan. “It makes his fastball look a little bit quicker. When he can throw that change-up in any count, that good, it’s a tough time for hitters up there.”


Pavone led the Huskies by going 2 for 4 with two RBI. Both of Pavone’s hits came at crucial times for UConn. With the game tied at 3-3, Pavone’s base hit down the right field line would push across Tom Verdi to give the Huskies the lead. His double in the eighth allowed UConn to pad its lead, as the Huskies would need every run in this ball game.


“We were just trying to stay in it,” Pavone said. “The pitcher kept pitching us away. He did a really good job. “A bunch of guys came up big. If we could do better in the ninth then we can make it less stressful for everybody.”


Connecticut jumped out all over Oklahoma’s Steven Okert (2-1) in the first. Okert was having trouble finding his rhythm early. Eric Yavarone lead off the game with a base hit up the middle and Billy Ferriter followed with a full-count walk to give the Huskies runners at first and second. Then the runs followed.


LJ Mazzilli stroked an RBI ground rule double over the right field wall to give the Huskies a 1-0 lead. Ryan Fuller laced a ball deep in the left field gap to push across another two runs and increasing the lead to 3-0. Okert found his rhythm and got out of the inning without further harm.


After being shut down in the first, the Sooners pushed across a run in the second to cut the deficit to 3-1. Matt Oberste lined a change-up off the left field wall for a one-out double. After a walk, Cody Reine pushed across Oklahoma’s first run with a base hit up the middle.


Oklahoma slowly started to find a way after Ward. Oklahoma started off the third with a double and an RBI single from Caleb Bushyhead. A stolen base and a throwing error would put Bushyhead on third with no outs. The Sooners found a way to tie it after an excuse-me swing from Oberste made its way just out of the reach of Ward. The Sooners rally would end there, as the score remained 3-3 at the end of three.


Erik Ross led off the fifth for the Sooners and smoked a ball in the right center gap for what looked to be a definite double, but Connecticut center fielder Ferriter had other plans. Ferriter was on a full sprint and laid out completely to snag the line drive. The play would prove to give some of momentum back to the Huskies, which had slowly been losing it to the Sooners as they crawled back to tie the game after being down 3-0.


“The difference in the game was really the play in left field; terrific play by them,” said OU head coach Sunny Golloway. “Center fielder made a couple catches for them and putting the ball in play is what you got to do.”


The huge defensive plays really proved pivotal for the Huskies. They shut down the Sooners’ rally attempts and the Huskies would follow them up with clutch two-out hitting.


The Huskies would capitalize on the 1-2-3 inning from Ward with the help of Ferriter’s outstanding catch. After the first two batters for UConn went down to a groundout and strikeout, the Huskies found their way on with a full-count walk by Verdi. Verdi stole second and just like that UConn has a runner in scoring position and would eventually push their lead to 5-3 in the sixth.


In the eighth, the Huskies would add to their lead. After a leadoff walk, the day was done for Okert (7 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 4 BB, 5 K). The Sooners brought in Jordan John in relief. John seemed to be en route to getting out of the inning unharmed after a double play ball, but he gave up a base hit and back-to-back doubles. The Huskies pushed their lead to 7-3 and welcomed another new pitcher in Kindle Ladd. Ladd was able to end the UConn inning with a simple groundout to himself.


Things would get interesting in the ninth as Oklahoma would have to somehow come back from an 8-3 deficit. After a leadoff base hit, OU would follow it up with a strikeout but the rally wouldn’t end there. The Sooners came back with three straight base runners and cut the lead to two.


Connecticut would call on its closer, Scott Oberg, to try to get them out of the jam. Oberg gave up a base hit and the lead was cut to just one. With the bases loaded and two outs, Oberg mustered up one last pitch to get Oberste to ground out to preserve the win for the Huskies.