UConn baseball has been here before. In each of the last four years and seven of the last 11, the Huskies have stepped foot on the field at the regional stage of the NCAA tournament. They have the tournament experience, one of the best coaches in the game, but the question remains: How far can they go?
With one super regional appearance under Jim Penders where they failed to advance, the Huskies are hoping that this is the team to take them all the way to Omaha.
Up first for UConn is Wake Forest, and although they’re not regional hosts, the Demon Deacons are the Las Vegas favorites to make it to the Super Regionals.
It won’t be easy, but the Huskies have seen plenty of challenges in the last month of the season. Here’s what to expect:
When: Friday, June 3, 1 p.m.
Where: Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium, College Park, Maryland
Odds to advance to the Super Regionals (via DraftKings):
Wake Forest +110
Long Island +8000
KenPom Predicted Score: Wake Forest 7, UConn 6
How they got here:
UConn’s regular season ended on a low, getting swept by Georgetown in the final series before the postseason, but turned it around in the Big East Tournament. The Huskies smashed through Creighton and Xavier after exorcising their demons against Georgetown in the opening game. The Huskies ended the season 46-13, 16-5 in the Big East and No. 43 in RPI
Wake Forest is the No. 6 in the RPI, but barely eked out a winning record in conference play. That’s how tough of a challenge the ACC was as a conference this year, a league that sent nine teams to the NCAA tournament. The Demon Deacons went 40-17-1 in the regular season, but crashed out in ACC tournament pool play, so their strong resume carried them to the NCAA tournament.
Maryland was picked to finish fourth in the Big Ten and ended the regular season at the top of the league. Losses to Michigan and Indiana cut short the Terrapins’ conference tournament journey early, but they have a crazy offense (No. 17 in the country with a .306 team average) and will be hungry to make their first super regional since 2015.
LIU came out as champions of the NEC with an emphatic 7-0 win over Bryant, one of UConn’s usual regional rivals, and took wins over Penn State and Washington State this year.
What to Watch For
The first game of the regional will be a pitchers’ duel, with UConn’s Austin Peterson facing off against Wake Forest’s Rhett Lowder, the ACC pitcher of the year. UConn’s 6-foot-6 righthander went 10-2 this year with a 3.22 ERA and 129 strikeouts in 100 2/3 innings pitched, while Wake Forest’s ace earned a 2.45 ERA with 10 wins and 78 strikeouts.
UConn’s lineup will have their work cut out for them, but that hasn’t stopped the Huskies very often this season. The four-headed beast of Erik Stock, Ben Huber, Zach Bushling and David Smith — all four transfers— have carried the offense through thick and thin this year.
Three of the four are hitting over .300, but Stock had one of the more impressive seasons of any Husky this year. He hit .375/.443/.600, leading the team in hits, with 90, and doubles with 21. Huber put his light tower power on display throughout the season with 11 home runs, tied with Dana for the team lead.
With the transfers in the limelight, UConn’s youngsters have also proved key contributors over the course of the season. Forcing his way into the lineup partway through the season, Korey Morton now leads the team in batting average (.442), slugging (.762) and on-base percentage (.475), but has only 95 at-bats on the year. Beyond his bat, Morton displays speed on the basepaths and a great arm in the outfield. Bryan Padilla anchors the defense at shortstop with excellent range and an accurate arm, also coming up with several clutch hits down the stretch.
Wake Forest’s lineup is potent as well, with seven batters hitting over .300 against strong pitching in the ACC. Catcher Brendan Tinsman is the power unit behind the Demon Deacons’ offense, with a .703 slugging percentage and leading the team with 23 home runs and 81 hits on the year. Super freshmen Nick Kurtz and Tommy Hawke have also had tremendous years, hitting .356 and .376 respectively (the latter ranks No. 13 in the country with a .502 on-base percentage).
Get past Wake Forest, and the Huskies will face off against the winner of No. 15 Maryland—the regional hosts—and LIU, the champions of the NEC. Get even further and it’s the Super Regionals, uncharted territory for UConn baseball since 2011.