The second season for UConn baseball begins this afternoon in Clearwater, FL, as the eighth seeded Huskies take on the top seeded Louisville Cardinals in the first round opener of the Big East Championship. With an at-large bid an unlikely prospect, the Huskies will have to take the tournament title and the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament that goes to the championship victor.
“We only have to get hot for one week”, said UConn coach Jim Penders, “And you can change your season in one week.”
UConn (30-25, 9-15 Big East) enters the tournament having taken two of three from George Mason to close the regular season. That, after losing six straight, before the match-up with the Patriots.
Said Penders of the George Mason series, “Good performances on defense. I liked our approach at the plate a lot better and it seemed like the rookies seemed to be coming into their own a little bit (versus George Mason). Hopefully that will continue into the Big East Tournament.”
The final two weeks was symptomatic of the Huskies play in the latter half of the season. After going ten games over .500 with a win over Fairfield on April 16th, the Huskies dropped 13 of their final 20 regular season games.
Penders’ squad will be the decided underdog going the tournament opener today, however, the upside of the double elimination format is that the Huskies need only to beat Louisville once to remain in the winner’s bracket and drop the Cardinals down to the loser’s side. Louisville (46-10, 20-4 Big East) swept the Huskies in a three game set in Storrs, shutting out UConn in a both games of the doubleheader on May 11th and capping the sweep with a 3-1 win the following day. The Cardinals, ranked eighth nationally and led by one of the nation’s most overpowering pitching staffs, held the Huskies to 13 hits, while surrendering only 3 walks and fanning 30 for the three game sweep.
Asked if his Huskies were going to try to be more aggressive earlier in the count against the Louisville pitchers Penders said, “We should. We always try to hit the fastball away and they are excellent at pitching away and getting strike one away from the meat of the plate. We’ve got to stay with that approach, but execute it a lot better. It’s easier said than done.”
Taking two of three from George Mason last week didn’t come without a cost, leaving freshman infielder Bryan Daniello nursing a bad knee and senior outfielder Stanley Paul rehabbing a pulled hamstring.
Starts with pitching
UConn will send righty Carson Cross (3-1, 1.21 ERA) against the Cardinals in the 5:00 p.m. match-up today at the Bright House Networks Field. Hard luck lefty Anthony Marzi (3-8, 2.55 ERA) will pitch UConn’s second tournament game. Louisville is 32-4 against righty starters and 14-6 against southpaws.
“I believe (Louisville) is the most talented team in our conference”, said Penders, “And we’re gonna have our hands full”. And added, “In spite of them being the most talented team in the league, ever body in the league is also beatable. So, we have to go in with that mentality and with nothing to lose.”
Louisville comes in riding a 16 game win streak, the longest in the nation, and with a three game sweep of Pitt to end the regular season, clinched their fourth Big East regular season title over a five season span.
Louisville junior right-hander and Big East Conference Pitcher of the Year, Jeff Thompson (10-1, 2.09 ERA, 97 K’s in 14 starts, 90.1 IP) heads the staff that struck an average of 9.8 batters per game and sports a stingy 2.43 ERA.
Ten Cardinals garnered All-Big East honors Tuesday at the Big East baseball awards ceremony
Big East Final Standings