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Why UConn Baseball’s Season Ended in NCAA Tournament Regional Finals

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Despite a strong effort throughout the weekend, the Huskies fell just short of reaching the Super Regional.

Ian Bethune - The UConn Blog

UConn baseball’s season came to an end on Monday night as the Huskies fell to the Oklahoma State Cowboys, 3-1. A win would have vaulted them into their second-ever NCAA Tournament Super Regional.

Here’s how it went down for Jim Penders’ squad:

Tired Arms

In its fifth game in four days, UConn’s bullpen finally ran out of gas. The Huskies used Caleb Wurster, CJ Dandeneau and Jacob Wallace to shut down Oklahoma State’s bats after taking the lead yesterday, so they tried the same method again today.

Early on, it worked. Wurster entered with runners on second and third with just one out and sandwiched a walk in-between two strikeouts to escape the jam. The next inning, the lefty began to show signs of fatigue by walking the first batter even though he got out of that inning as well.

The coaching staff tried to wring one inning too many out of Wurster. After UConn took a 1-0 lead in the top of the fifth, Oklahoma State tied it right back up with a home run on the second pitch of the inning.

Dandeneau came in for relief and got out of the inning without any more damage. But things began to unravel in the sixth. After getting the first batter to pop up, Dandeneau allowed the next two batters on and faced a second and third situation with one out.

Despite warming up Wallace in the bullpen, the coaching staff stuck with Dandeneau. That decision came back to haunt them as Carson McCusker ripped a double off the left field wall, scoring two runs. That would be all the ‘Pokes needed.

Bats Fall Quiet

After a torrid start to the tournament in which it collected 58 hits in 27 innings, UConn’s offensive magic ran out. The Huskies scraped together just five hits all game — none after the sixth inning.

“We didn’t hit much hard and when we did they made the plays,” Penders said after the game.

Similar to the bullpen, the hitters seemed to wear down after so much playing in such a short span of time, especially with the hot weather in Oklahoma City.

It Ain’t Easy

If anything, the loss showed just how hard it is to reach a super regional in the NCAA Tournament. The margin for error is practically zero — especially after losing the first game and ending up in the loser’s bracket.

Just think how much it took for UConn to even get to this regional final. The Huskies needed an incredible eight-inning performance from Colby Dunlop to save the bullpen. To beat Oklahoma State the first time, Wurster, Dandeneau and Wallace all pitched arguably their best outings of the season. And while they didn’t need it, Anthony Prato’s home run certainly helped a lot.

That’s not even counting everything else UConn deals with.

“There’s not a team that is going to raise that trophy in Omaha that has dealt with more than we’ve dealt over the course of the season,” Penders said. “We’ve slept in our own beds four Friday nights since February 9th of this year. There’s no team playing today in Division I baseball that can say that.”

But there’s no denying the Huskies are close to breaking through to another Super Regional. According to senior John Toppa, reaching a regional final should be the rule, not the exception.

“Coach always talks about leaving the program better than you’ve found and it’s our third regional, it’s becoming the norm now,” he said. “In order for us to get to the next step, that’s what needs to happen. It can’t be we just get to the tournament and whatever happens next is gravy, it can’t be like that and I don’t think it’ll be like that.

“We were so close this year to moving on and I know the guys in the locker room right now will do everything they can to break down that next barrier and keep the program moving in the right direction.”

Notes

  • Paul Gozzo, Anthony Prato, John Toppa, Jake Wallace, Chris Winkel and Pat Winkel were all named to the All-Tournament team for the OKC Regional.

With a final record of 39-25, UConn finished with the third-most wins in program history. The 2010 team holds the all-time mark with 48 wins followed up by the 2011 team, who won 45 games.

  • Caleb Wurster made his 36th appearance of the year, setting the program’s single-season record.
  • The Huskies fall to 1-2 all-time in regional finals.