When Jim Penders took over as UConn baseball’s head coach in 2004, the Huskies had made the NCAA Tournament just three times — 1990, 1993, and 1994 — since the ‘70s.
UConn finally made it back in 2010 and since then gone to seven of the last 11 — including the last three. With the Huskies set to take on Michigan in the South Bend Regional on Friday at 7 p.m., we decided to look back at some of the team’s best NCAA Tournament moments under Penders.
George Springer’s catch vs. South Carolina
In 2011, UConn had a roster that featured future World Series MVP George Springer, another future World Series champion in Matt Barnes, three more who would eventually reach the majors, and 10 others who were selected in the MLB Draft.
The Huskies lost their opening game in the tournament to Coastal Carolina but rallied to win four straight — including back-to-back wins against Clemson on its home field — to advance to their first (and only) Super Regional under Jim Penders.
UConn traveled to Columbia, South Carolina for a best-of-three series against the defending national champion South Carolina Gamecocks. The Huskies dropped the first game 5-1 and trailed by one after a lead-off homer in the eighth.
South Carolina loaded the bases and with two outs, Steven Neff drilled a fly ball deep to center. Springer — bad hamstring and wall — tracked back and made an incredible over-the-shoulder catch to keep UConn’s hopes alive.
Though the Gamecocks eventually ran away with five runs in the top of the ninth to end the Huskies’ season, Springer’s catch went down as one of the biggest defensive players in recent program history.
UConn beats Florida... in golfball
While waiting out a rain delay during the Gainesville Regional in 2016, UConn held an impromptu golf tournament to pass the time.
The participants included the likes of Willy Yahn, Joe Deroche-Duffin, Alex Lefevre, Bryan Daniello, and Zac Susi, who won the “green jacket.”
This will fit in great with all the other national championship trophies pic.twitter.com/sZqtXJlwU8— Daniel Connolly (@DanielVConnolly) June 5, 2016
Though UConn beat Georgia Tech in the opener, the Huskies lost their next two games by a combined three runs to bow out of the field.
You can watch all the golfing highlights here.
Christian Fedko bat-flips to the moon
In 2018, UConn found itself in a do-or-die game against Coastal Carolina on the Chanticleer’s home field. The Huskies handed the ball to closer PJ Poulin for the start and he threw six innings, allowing just two runs.
UConn jumped out to a 5-2 lead but Coastal responded with three runs in the top of the eighth to tie the game.
Enter Christian Fedko. The AAC Freshman of the Year hadn’t gone deep all season but with two outs in the bottom of the eight, he crushed a 1-1 pitch over the left field wall to put UConn ahead 6-5.
For good measure, Fedko capped the homer with a bat-flip that may or may not have landed yet.
sources say bat has YET to land pic.twitter.com/R4eyQMKsEF— bernie c(ould someone hire me pls) (@movinlikeburr) June 3, 2018
“He hit his first home run and it looked like he had hit 100 of them,” Penders said of Fedko postgame. “He went around the bases a little too slow but in this situation, we’ll allow him a little leeway. He hit a big one.”
Anthony Prato calls his shot
One year later, UConn made it back to the regional final, this time against Oklahoma State in Oklahoma City. As Prato prepared for his at-bat in the bottom of the seventh, he turned to two of his teammates and made a prediction.
“I told Conor [Moriarty] and Paul [Gozzo] when I was going up, I said ‘I’m going to try to hit one out today.’ [Chiovitti] had a good at-bat in front of me so I said ‘I figured this is a good time,’” Prato said.
The shortstop delivered on his promise, launching a two-run bomb into the left field bar.
Like Fedko the year prior, Prato discarded his bat in style.
Here's Anthony Prato's bat toss in all its glory pic.twitter.com/mg26tcoWIb— Daniel Connolly (@DanielVConnolly) June 3, 2019
Jake Wallace strikes out seven straight OSU batters
While Prato helped UConn with his bat, the Huskies’ bullpen kept Oklahoma State at bay. Starter Jeff Kersten ran into trouble in the top of the third and it forced Penders to go to his bullpen earlier than he would’ve liked.
Luckily, he had a three-headed monster in Dandeneau, Jake Wallace, and Caleb Wurster to turn to.
Wurster got the call first and tossed three scoreless frames before handing things over to Dandeneau. The redshirt senior gave UConn 1.2 innings but couldn’t get the final out in the seventh. Finally, Penders handed the ball to Wallace.
Oklahoma State never stood a chance.
Wallace struck out all seven batters he faced and emphatically slammed the door on a 5-2 victory.
“I know there’s not a better reliever in the country than Jake Wallace,” Penders said.
Jacob Wallace, 7 consecutive Ks (UConn Closer) vs. Oklahoma State. pic.twitter.com/uYSlMaApzZ— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 3, 2019
Though the Huskies went on the lose in the winner-take-all game, Wallace’s seven strikeout domination will forever live on in UConn baseball lore.