With their record-breaking loss to Cincinnati in the AAC Championship far behind them — “We just had one bad day,” head coach Jim Penders said — UConn baseball will turn its eye towards the next stage of the postseason.
“Hopefully it motivates us going into this weekend,” Penders said. “I think we just need to keep playing the same brand of baseball we have played the last two weeks.”
From Friday at 1 p.m. to however far their bats and pitching will take them, the Huskies have a chance to do what no other team from the school has done since 2011 (and none have done before, either): make it to the NCAA Super Regionals.
When to Watch
UConn’s first game of the weekend will take place on Friday, at 1 p.m. against Nebraska. If they lose that game, they will take on the loser of Oklahoma State vs. Harvard at 2 p.m. on Saturday. If they win, they’ll face the winner at 8 p.m.
Where to Watch
Friday’s game against Nebraska will be “televised” on ESPN3, and the rest of the tournament will air on ESPN networks to be determined.
What to Watch For
Mason Feole will get the ball on Friday, that much we know for sure. The rest is up for grabs. Extreme pitching depth is a necessity in the college baseball postseason, and UConn has sure demonstrated that this season.
The indomitable Jake Wallace belongs in his own category. The only reliever on the list of National Pitcher of the Year finalists has given up three earned runs in 27 starts, and the .156 batting average he allows almost seems too high to be true once you watch him pitch.
After him, the Huskies two other shutdown relievers in Caleb Wurster and CJ Dandeneau, who both have sub-3 ERAs. That’s two more closer-level talents where most teams are lucky to have just one.
You can say positive things about the starters: Mason Feole’s down year is still pretty good (3.50 ERA, .233 batting average against, 75 strikeouts) and Jeffrey Kersten has been a steady force, but the third starter has been a rotating door. Colby Dunlop, Jimmy Wang, or even Joe Simeone could get to start this weekend.
UConn is hoping beyond hope that this season plays out just like the last time they faced Nebraska. In 1979, the Huskies routed the Huskers 15-0 in the regional on their way to their last College World Series appearance. Nebraska is fresh off a conference championship loss of their own, falling to Ohio State to end up a three-seed.
Like UConn, the Huskers’ strength lies in their pitching staff. Nate Fisher and Matt Waldron, their top two starters, ended up with 2.88 and 3.11 ERAs respectively; the former is due to start against the Huskies on Friday.
Nebraska’s offense can manufacture runs like nobody’s business. They’ve stolen 50 bases in 69 attempts and their team .376 on-base percentage ranks second in the Big 10.
Their lineup has struggled against left-handers, however, which put any thought of keeping Mason Feole from pitching game one out of the question.
Nebraska’s lineup is anchored by their two All-Big Ten Conference youngsters: Sophomore outfielder Aaron Palensky hit .339 on the year, leading the team in average, home runs, doubles and triples. Alongside him is the conference newcomer of the year, designated hitter Cam Chick, who hit .316 in Big 10 play.
If the Huskies are fortunate enough to advance past the Big Ten runners-up Huskers, they will likely get to take on the Big 12 champions, No. 9 overall seed Oklahoma State (who they actually rank higher than in RPI by 16 spots.)
The ‘Pokes are hitting .272 as a team on the year with a 4.07 team ERA, but their real strength comes from the long ball. They’ve mashed 84 over the fence so far this year, with a ridiculous .473 team slugging percentage.
Outfielder Trevor Boone has been a one-man power surge for Oklahoma State. His .649 slugging percentage leads the team by nearly .100, but he’s not alone. Four players in the ‘Pokes’ lineup are slugging over .500 and have hit over ten homers this year
The Crimson will face Oklahoma State in their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2005, their reward for winning the Ivy League. The Huskies have actually faced Harvard 11 times before, holding a 4-7 all-time record against them.