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NEW ORLEANS - Winners of nine of 11, the UConn baseball team (15-8) begins American Athletic Conference play this weekend with a trip to the Big Easy for a three-game set at Tulane (17-8). The Huskies and Green Wave will play Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m. (all times Eastern) at Greer Field at Turchin Stadium.
The Huskies are coming off back-to-back offensive explosions during the midweek, toppling Yale by a score of 18-1 on March 24 before a 17-2 victory at Central Connecticut on March 25. The 35 combined runs in consecutive games are the most in a two-game stretch since 2010, while the Huskies scored at least 17 in two straight for the first time since 2001.
Vinny Siena (Woodbridge, Conn.) became the first Husky since George Springer in 2011 to post a six-RBI day in the CCSU game and leads the Huskies with a .388 average on the year. Siena is currently third in The American with 40 hits and sixth in the league in average. He also leads Connecticut with eight doubles, two triples and 22 RBIs in 2015.
The Huskies have seen a power surge from Max McDowell (North Huntingdon, Pa.) of late, as the junior catcher and Johnny Bench Award Watch List member has homered in consecutive contests and leads UConn with five long balls on the year. He is slashing 325/.379/.538 and is second behind Siena on UConn with 21 RBIs. Jack Sundberg (Mansfield, Conn.) has continued to spark the Huskies from the top of the order, batting .319 and leading the squad with 23 runs scored and 12 stolen bases.
Freshman Willy Yahn (Sharon, Conn.) has made his way into the UConn starting lineup for the last six contests and made an immediate impact, batting .478 through his first six collegiate starts with three doubles, two triples and 11 RBIs. Yahn has recorded four-consecutive multi-hit games and the Huskies are 5-1 with him in the starting lineup.
On the mound, the Huskies hold a 2.45 team ERA, good for third in The American and top-15 nationally. UConn holds opponents to a .201 batting average against and are top-five in the country in fewest hits allowed per nine innings. Friday starter Carson Cross (Brentwood, N.H.) has returned to the front of the rotation and been terrific, posting a 5-1 record with a 1.74 ERA in 41.1 innings. Cross is currently second nationally with 58 strikeouts through six starts.
Saturday starter Anthony Kay (Stony Brook, N.Y.) has his name all over the national leaderboards with a 1.28 ERA and a 0.71 WHIP in six starts, striking out 45 against only eight walks in a conference-leading 42.2 innings. Sunday man Jordan Tabakman (Pompton Plains, N.J.) has also been his solid self, with a 2.70 ERA in his six starts. The UConn bullpen is led by closer Patrick Ruotolo (Peabody, Mass.) with 15 strikeouts and three saves in 7.2 innings, while converted fielder Nico Darras (Laguna Beach, Calif.) holds a 1.69 ERA in a team-leading nine appearances.
Tulane hosts UConn with a 17-8 record, including an 11-4 mark at Greer Field at Turchin Stadium. The Green Wave broke into the polls earlier this season after an impressive start under first-year head coach David Pierce. Tulane's strength comes from its pitching, currently holding a 2.25 ERA to lead The American. Friday starter Corey Merrill has made six starts and pitched to a 1.33 ERA, striking out 36 against nine walks in 40.2 innings. Emerson Gibbs has made three starts and holds a 2.03 ERA, while Tim Yandel figures to start Sunday with a 2.43 ERA on the season. At the dish, Stephen Alemais leads the Green Wave with a .347 average and has scored a team-high 24 runs. Hunter Hope and Hunter Williams are tied for the Tulane lead with four home runs and 14 RBIs apiece.
UConn begins its second season in the new-look American Athletic Conference this weekend. The Huskies went 9-14 in The American in its debut season in 2014, winning regular season series against Cincinnati, Memphis and UCF along the way. This year the eight-team league welcomes perennial college baseball powers East Carolina and Tulane to replace the departed Louisville, Rutgers and Temple. The Huskies last won a conference title in 2013 when they won the Big East Tournament.
After the Tulane series, the Huskies have their 2015 home opener scheduled for Tuesday, March 31 against Boston College.