ORLANDO -- The UConn baseball team jumped out to an early lead and held off a late UCF rally to claim a series-opening victory, 6-4, on Friday night at Jay Bergman Field. The Huskies improve to 21-12 overall and 4-3 in the American Athletic Conference with the victory, while the Knights, ranked as high as No. 12 in the national polls, drop to 24-11 and 3-4 in league action.
The Huskies scored three times in the first inning and used seven one-run innings from Carson Cross (Brentwood, N.H.) on the mound to lead throughout, with Patrick Ruotolo (Peabody, Mass.) striking out four in 1.1 high-pressure innings to lock down the save late. UConn took a 6-1 lead in the top of the eighth and withstood a three-run bottom of the frame from UCF to hang on and take the series lead.
Cross allowed eighth hits and two walks with six strikeouts in his seven one-run frames, improving his record on the year to 7-1. He was opposed by UCF's Cre Finfrock who lasted 5.1 innings, allowing four runs on seven hits with four walks and three strikeouts.
At the plate, Bobby Melley (Barnstable, Mass.) went 3-for-5 with a run and an RBI and Vinny Siena (Woodbridge, Conn.) had two hits and scored a run. Bryan Daniello (Norwalk, Conn.) and Jon Testani (Monroe, Conn.) each drove in two and scored a run, while Max McDowell (North Huntingdon, Pa.) also notched an RBI.
The Huskies got on the board first with a three-run top of the first. Siena and Melley set the table with back-to-back hits, and after a walk McDowell plated Siena with a sacrifice fly. With two away in the frame, Daniello cracked a two-run triple to left center field and UConn took a 3-0 advantage.
UCF got a run back with an RBI single in the bottom of the fourth, before Melley pushed the advantage back to three with an RBI single in the top of the fifth. Cross battled for UConn into the seventh, leaving the bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth and fanning a pair in a 1-2-3 bottom of the seventh to cap his outing.
UConn got a pair of big insurance runs in the top of the eighth when Testani punched a two-out single up the middle to drive in a pair and make it a 6-1 advantage. The Knights, owners of the nation's top offense by several metrics, got three across in the bottom of the frame with a two-run homer and a bases loaded walk. With UConn up 6-4, Patrick Ruotolo (Peabody, Mass.) stranded the bases loaded with a swinging strikeout to keep it a two-run game.
Ruotolo returned for the bottom of the ninth and struck out the first two batters he faced before a dropped pop-up extended his outing. After a single and a walk, Ruotolo struck out the would-be go-ahead run to leave two on and seal the victory.
UConn and UCF return to the diamond tomorrow afternoon in a contest pushed up to a 1 p.m. start. Anthony Kay (Stony Brook, N.Y.) will take the ball for Connecticut with his conference-leading 1.17 ERA.
In his last six starts, Carson Cross is 5-0 with a 0.80 ERA and 53 strikeouts against nine walks in 45.0 innings
Cross recorded his 19th career win to move into sole possession of sixth in UConn history
Vinny Siena recorded his team-best 15th multi-hit game and has reached base safely in 24 straight
Jon Testani tied Siena for the team lead with his eighth multi-RBI game
Patrick Ruotolo has 30 strikeouts in 15.1 innings this season