Penders achieves coaching milestone in UConn's win over URI

Kingston, R.I. — One day this summer Jim Penders will reflect on his coaching milestone.

Just not now.

He's too busy focusing on doing everything possible to help his UConn baseball team win down the stretch when every game is meaningful.

UConn squeaked past host Rhode Island, 5-4, on a raw, cool Tuesday afternoon, giving Penders his 556th career victory, tying his former coach, Andy Baylock, for most in program history.

"It's so far out of my frame of reference right now," Penders said. "It's about winning Thursday right now."

Thursday is UConn's next game, the opener of its American Athletic Conference regular-season series finale against Tulane in New Orleans.

It's been a stomach-churning season for Penders and his Huskies, whose last four games have each been decided by two runs or less.

The abundance of nail-biters this season have caused Penders to do something that he's never done in his 16 seasons as UConn head coach.

"I'm grinding my teeth at night, my wife tells me," Penders said. "I've never done that."

With three regular-season games remaining, the Huskies (31-21) are trying to improve their resume and gain some momentum for the AAC tournament next week in Clearwater, Fla.

After the game, Penders talked about sharing the record with Baylock.

"I'll never be able to approach or tie him in the number of lives that he's touched in a positive manner," Penders said. "He's a mentor, a friend. I'm not standing here without Andy Baylock. I see him almost every day and I'm so thankful for that. He hasn't changed one bit. He's got all the bounce in his step.

"... He's an inspiration to me every day and he's an inspiration to so many on campus. He's a campus treasure. Any time I can be mentioned in the same breath as Andy Baylock, that's an honor and a privilege."

UConn relied on a familiar formula to post the latest win. The Huskies struck early, scoring three runs in the first inning, with Pat Winkel, Christian Fedko and Kyler Fedko each supplying an RBI hit, and added a run in fourth on Chris Winkel's single to build a 4-0 edge.

When the game tighened up, Penders turned to his "three-headed monster" in the bullpen — Caleb Wurster, CJ Dandeneau and Jacob Wallace, who notched his 13th save, to close it out.

"Every game is like one run, two runs," Penders said. "We've struggled some much to score runs. Thank God for Jake Wallace and CJ Dandeneau and Caleb Wurster. They've been so good down the stretch of ball games. And you saw it today. That's been our formula all year."

The Huskies were happy that they could help Penders reach a coaching milestone.

"Nobody in college baseball deserves it more," senior John Toppa said. "He deserves every milestone and just every award that comes his way he more than deserves. The fact that some guys that probably didn't know kind of tells you all you need to know about coach Penders.

"He's never going to go out his way and say he's close to a milestone or talk about things about that. He's always focused on just winning games and getting his team as prepared as possible."

g.keefe@theday.com


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