Baseball team continues UConn's Big East dominance, etc.


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UConn centerfielder George "Babe" Springer (artist's rendering).

Yawn if you've heard this before: a UConn sports team is on its way to winning a Big East championship during the 2010-11 academic year.

Fall sports? The Big East FEARED EDSALL.

Winter sports? We had Maya and Kemba, and you didn't.

And now, as the spring season begins to wind down, another group of Huskies are forcing the rest of the Big East to bow gracefully in our general direction:

UConn's baseball team improved to 31-13 overall, and 15-3 in the conference, after Sunday's 6-3 victory over Rutgers in Piscataway, N.J. Winning pitcher Brian Ward went 6 2/3 innings, shutting out the Scarlet Knights and giving up two hits. A two-out rally plated four UConn runs in the fifth, and the lead was 6-0 before Rutgers added a couple meaningless runs in the eighth and ninth.

If you haven't been following these Huskies over the first three months of the NCAA baseball season, now would be a good time to jump on the bandwagon: it's now May, just three weeks remain in the regular season, the Big East Tournament is looming at the end of the month, and the NCAA Tournament commences the first week in June.

The Huskies seem like they're going to grab an NCAA berth whether or not they earn the league's automatic spot, but that could just be my general ignorance of the greater college baseball landscape talking.

Below the jump, we take a quick overview at UConn baseball as they head down the home stretch of the regular season.

UConn started the season with great expectations after last season, when Jim Penders' crew finished runners-up in the Big East regular season and tournament, and went on to host an NCAA Tournament subregional. With much of last year's squad returning, the Huskies were even ranked in the preseason Top 10 in some national polls.

But the Huskies struggled early in the non-conference schedule, dropping four of their first five. A loss to Southern Miss on March 20 dropped UConn to 8-9 overall with Big East play looming. Since then, though, it's been all UConn, all the time.

The Huskies are blitzing their way through the Big East, leading the way with a 15-3 record following Sunday's victory at Rutgers. Their overall record is up to a season-high 18 games over .500 thanks to an incredibly successful April that mirrored the 2010 season (when UConn won 22 in a row between March 27 and April 27, en route to a 48-win campaign).

Leading the way this year, once again, is five-tool prospect George Springer, generally considered to be a potential high first-round draft pick in this June's MLB Draft.

Springer, the centerfielder from New Britain, just blisters the ball every time he gets up to bat. Through Saturday's games, the senior was batting .370, getting on base at a .464 clip, and was slugging at .679 rate. His nine home runs and 59 RBI are both team highs, as are his 27 steals.

In this recent profile of Springer in the Hartford Courant, a writer for Baseball America said this about Springer:

"He's a really exciting player, one of the best athletes in the draft," said Aaron Fitt, college baseball writer for Baseball America. "There's some division about him. The questions would be his hitting tools, he'll need some polish. He will need to make some adjustments. If you think he can do it, you'd take him in the top 5 to 10. If you're not sure, you'd take him 10 to 15. I don't see him going lower than that."

Not to sell short 1B Mike Nemeth (.363 AVG, .476 OBP, 39 RBI), 2B L.J. Mazzilli (.520 SLG) and SS Nick Ahmed* (.422 OBP, 20 steals), all regulars and key contributors, but Springer is just the latest in a line of singularly transcendent athletes in Storrs this year (Todman begat Kemba who begat Maya...)

*Ahmed is currently out with a collapsed lung after a recent collison on the basepaths, which HOLY SHIT THAT SOUNDS PAINFUL.

The fun fact about Springer is that he might not even be the best major-league prospect on the team. That honor might go to senior pitcher Matt Barnes (8-3, 1.41 ERA). Barnes' utterly disgraceful, wouldn't-even-qualify-for-a-spot-in-the-Red-Sox's-rotation ERA was at 0.92 before Friday's 8-3 loss to Rutgers.

Barnes' eight wins puts him in the top 15 for pitchers in all of Division I, but it's his two plus pitches (fastball and a curve) that make him attractive to scouts, who also have him pegged as a high first-round pick.

The Huskies' pitching is a strong point this year; their 2.73 team ERA is good for 15th in the country. Since April 1, UConn has played 22 games; 16 times, the Huskies' opponents have scored three runs or fewer. Not surprisingly, UConn is 19-3 in those 22.

With each weekend Big East series opening with Barnes and No. 2 starter Greg Nappo (6-2, 2.67 ERA), it's no surprise that UConn has won at least 2 out of 3 against all six conference opponents.

The Huskies have 11 more regular-season games - Big East series at home against South Florida (May 7-9) and Louisville (May 13-15), two non-conference games, and three games at Cincinnati (May 19-21).

For those of you in the southeastern Connecticut area, note that the May 7 USF game and the May 13 Louisville game are both at Dodd Stadium in Norwich. The rest of the home games are on campus.

Right now, UConn is two games ahead of Pittsburgh in the loss column (UConn won two of three from the Panthers in March), and four ahead of a pack of teams in third place which include the Bulls and Cardinals. The race is not nearly over, but the Huskies are in a nice place with just a couple weeks remaining.

We'll keep tracking them throughout the remainder of the season as they try and top off the 2010-11 academic season: the year UConn sports went HAM.

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