Behind the pitching of Anthony Kay and Pat Ruotolo, combined with some late runs, the UConn Huskies beat the Houston Cougars for the American Athletic Conference title and an automatic NCAA bid with a 7-2 win.
Kay had a gutsy performance. During Saturday's semifinals, the bullpen had been used early and often, pitching 8.1 innings in the first and another 2.0 in the second. UConn head coach Jim Penders had a tough choice in the middle of the third when lightning hit. Does he stick with his ace, or does he dip into an already taxed bullpen to pitch another 7.0 innings?
While Houston decided to take their ace out, Penders stuck with his. Kay sat for almost an hour, but came through in the clutch for his team in what was likely a do-or-die scenario with regard to the NCAA Tournament. He pitched 6.0 innings, allowing two runs on six hits, while striking out five and walking two. He took a shut out into the sixth, but allowed a solo home run to begin the inning.
Junior closer Pat Ruotolo's effort also cannot be understated. He got a nine-out save and came in and got a stop when everything seemed to be crashing down for UConn. Kay left the game with runners on second and third with no one out. Ruotolo only allowed one of those runners to score and the ball did not leave the infield in that seventh inning.
In the eighth, Ruotolo allowed back-to-back singles, putting runners on first and second with one out. He bore down again, getting two outs, allowing neither of those runners to advance further. His ninth was much cleaner, only allowing a single. He earned his 11th save of the season with his performance in the 7-2 win.
On the offensive side, Bobby Melley carried the day. After missing both of yesterday's games due to a violation of team rules, he went 3-for-5 with three RBI and a two-run home run. Bryan Daniello also had three hits. Willy Yahn was only 1-for-5, but his hit was a triple that brought in a run as part of a three-run ninth that clinched the game for the Huskies. He added another RBI in the seventh.
Behind Melley's home run and an RBI-single in the fourth by Tyler Gnesda, UConn had a 3-1 lead after six. In the seventh, Jack Sundberg worked a one-out walk. On an error on a pickoff attempt of the speedy center fielder, Sundberg took both second and third, which led to an RBI for Yahn on a ground out. Heading into the bottom of the seventh, UConn had a 4-1 lead.
After Houston's run in the seventh, UConn had a 4-2 lead. In the top of the ninth, they decided that was not enough, breaking out for three insurance runs. Gnesda singled and Keith Krueger pinch ran for him, stealing second. Sundberg singled down the right field line, bringing him home to increase the advance to 5-2 in favor of the Huskies. Yahn came up next and took an 0-1 pitch into the right-center gap. By the time he dove head-first into third base for a triple, Sundberg had scored for a 6-2 lead. Bobby Melley singled back up the middle to plate Yahn for the 7-2 lead the Huskies would finish with.
UConn (37-23) will find out their NCAA regional fate at 12 p.m. tomorrow on ESPNU on the selection show.
Anthony Kay, Bryan Daniello, Aaron Hill, John Toppa and Bobby Melley were named to the all-tournament team.