You see that headline and probably think I meant to talk about Men's Basketball. If so, you have no idea how crushing the loss to St. John’s was yesterday for the baseball team and Head Coach Jim Penders when placed in context. Penders is a great coach who will eventually win the Big East/Big 10/Atlantic 10/Whatever Conference UConn Is In In the Future, but for now, he’s had rotten luck in the postseason.
2006: Penders brings the program out of the ashes and back into the light. They qualify for their first Big East Tournament in eons, finishing 2nd (!!!!) in the conference. They win their opener against Cincinnati and run into soon-to-be-national-giant Louisville. The game is a back and forth affair until the Cards explode for 4 in the 7th, en route to a 12-10 victory. UConn has to beat Rutgers to stay alive.
A week earlier, to close the regular season, Nick Tucci had dominated the Scarlet Knights. But in an elimination game, he gets shelled by the same team, giving up 10 hits & 8 ER in 4.2 IP as UConn is eliminated.
2007: UConn sneaks into the tournament in Brooklyn as the 8th and final seed, pushing 1 seed St. John’s to the wire in the opener but falling 2-1. The Huskies rally through the loser’s bracket, including a walk-off HR to eliminate St. John’s, all the way to a title game face-off against 2-seed Rutgers. UConn is outclassed the entire game until they put up 5 runs in the 9th. Trailing 7-6, Dale Brannon singles with 1 out and the tying run is on 1st base. But UConn gets back-to-back flyouts and loses the championship 7-6.
2008: UConn misses the tournament entirely.
2009: UConn gets back into the tournament as a 6-seed and has their most impressive trip under Penders. They do not lose a game en route to the title game, enduring rain delays, bad dancing to face off against now-national-powerhouse Louisville. UConn is no match for the Cards, falling 11-3.
2010: A week after blowing the regular season title & the 1-seed with a home loss to lowly Seton Hall, the Huskies need a late rally to overcome Cincinnati, a team they dominated in the regular season. They lose their next game to Rutgers, another team they had swept in the regular season. They win an elimination game against 3-seed Pittsburgh, who had given them trouble in the regular season, and sweep Rutgers to make the title game. In that game, they face St. John’s for the first time in 2010, and the potent offense is completely dominated by Kyle Hansen, brother of a former crappy Red Sox reliever, losing 3-0. The game ends with the Huskies hitting into a double play with the bases loaded and one out.
But 2010 has epilogue. UConn has qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1994. They get to host a regional down the road in Norwich. They are a legitimate dark horse to go to Omaha. They have a good coach and a very good team. If you are anywhere near Norwich this weekend, you owe it to yourself to check it out.
And if you do go, do me a favor. If you see a Big East logo anywhere, destroy it. Jim Penders will thank you.