Keegan O’Connor’s walk-off homer punctuates Quinnipiac baseball’s 10-8 win over Hartford

Michael LaRocca, Opinion Editor

Kicking off a four-game weekend series against Hartford, Quinnipiac baseball defeated the Hawks in extra innings by a score of 10-8, coming back from a five-run deficit in the final three innings. 

When a team plays a non-conference series this late into the regular season, especially against a team that entered the matchup with a 3-30 record, motivation may be seen as a challenge. However, Quinnipiac’s goal remains the same. 

“Win. Win all four,” freshman pitcher Matt Alduino said. “Don’t take it any different than a conference series.”

The first six innings of the game were a pitcher’s duel between Quinnipiac sophomore righty Mason Ulsh and Hartford sophomore righty Alec Couture.

The teams traded RBI singles for the first three innings. Then in the top of the fourth, the game’s first big hit came in the form of a solo shot to left-center field from Hartford graduate student catcher Harrison Engstrom to tie it at two. 

Only one more run was scored before the game was broken open in the top of the seventh inning. With the Bobcats leading 3-2, Ulsh, who was in line for the win, hit the leadoff man with a pitch. The Hawks then jumped on him, eventually taking a 5-3 lead off a two-run homer from graduate student infielder Devin Kellogg. 

Even after putting the leadoff man on base, Quinnipiac head coach John Delaney still had confidence in Ulsh despite the outcome.

“His stuff didn’t bother me,” Delaney said. “He was still making quality pitches, and he wasn’t completely out of the zone. I trust what his stuff is, and he’s a bulldog on the mound. I don’t pull someone who I feel hasn’t lost their stuff yet.”

The Auburn, Pennsylvania, native’s 6.2 innings pitched was a career high by two full innings as eventually becomes a future starter. 

The top of the seventh eventually ended with Hartford snatching a demanding 8-3 lead over Quinnipiac. Then the rally began.

Senior outfielder Anthony Donofrio hit a solo homer in the bottom of the seventh to make it 8-4, but following his moon shot, scoring remained idle until the bottom of the ninth. There was no energy to be found in the dugout. In the top of the ninth, there was a minute-long window where the game was nearly silent. 

Luckily, the excitement was brought back when senior outfielder Braydon Seaburg led off the ninth with a home run, making it 8-5 Hawks. 

“I think that juiced the dugout,” Delaney said. “The dugout energy is completely different after that. That’s something that can’t change after one swing, it’s got to be there from the first pitch.”

The next five at-bats went as follows: junior outfielder Jared Zimbardo walked, Donofrio walked, junior infielder Sebastian Mueller doubled, graduate student infielder Kyle Maves walked and then junior catcher Keegan O’Connor singled. 

That left the game tied at eight with no outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. And after O’Connor stole second, there were runners on second and third. However, Hartford was able to force two quick outs to have a chance at going to extra innings. That was when the play of the game occurred.  

Delaney made the call to have Maves, who was on third base at the time, steal home. It didn’t work, sending the game to extras.

This was Delaney’s insight on the decision:

“So, the third baseman was playing extremely back,” Delaney said. “Once he got the two strikes, he went back to the point where he’s on almost on the outfield grass … So after the second to last pitch there, (Maves) was off pretty far and no one was paying attention to him. So I told him as he’s coming set to start moving off, and as he gets his hands together, then break to try and cause a balk or steal home. He broke too soon.”

In the top of the 10th, Alduino allowed Hartford to load the bases with nobody out but then escaped the jam with two quick strikeouts and an amazing grab in foul territory by junior infielder Matt DeRosa. The Bobcats left two runners on base in the bottom of the inning.

During the 11th, Alduino struck out the side, giving his team a chance to win it by scoring just one run. They instead scored two. Maves singled, advanced to third on an error, then O’Connor ended it with a two-run blast to left field. 

Even though the loss bumped Hartford to 3-31 on the season, O’Connor recognized the battle they had.

“Hartford’s a good team,” O’Connor said. “I know their record just isn’t where they want it to be, but they play hard. They came out with a lot of intensity. They honestly won the first half of that game.”

The two teams will be seeing a lot more of each other as they have three more matchups to play this weekend, including a doubleheader in West Hartford tomorrow. The Bobcats will look to use this series to get ready for their final two MAAC series of the regular season against St. Peter’s and Siena.