Good pitching depth and hitters who perform in the clutch are two necessities to advance deep in the NCAA Tournament, and UConn baseball benefitted from both en route to a 10-5 win over No. 15 Maryland on Saturday, handing them a spot in the regional final.
UConn is 2-0 in an NCAA Tournament regional for the first time since 1972 and has a shot at making the Super Regionals Sunday.
“We were relentlessly unforgiving as an offense, I was really proud of how we hit the baseball today.” head coach Jim Penders said.
Pat Gallagher pitched with fire and emotion against by far the best lineup he’s faced all year, going seven innings, allowing two earned runs and striking out six. The Huskies’ starter got out of a jam with two runners in scoring position in the fifth by retiring three batters in a row. He got better as the night went on, retiring the last five batters he faced in a row, barking at the dugout as he walked off the mound for the last time.
“Tonight, he channeled some nastiness. He was coming in the dugout tonight and getting guys fired up, he was competing hard,” Penders said.
While UConn’s lineup received a great platform from its sophomore starter, catcher Matt Donlan went out and won it at the plate. The transfer uncorked a three-run homer over the left field wall in the bottom of the seventh, extending the Huskies’ lead to four and starting a seven-run stretch to close out the game.
“I was looking for a slider, I got it, and I hit it a long way,” Donlan said.
Baseball can be simple.
The Huskies carried the momentum from their emotional win over Wake Forest on Friday into the first inning on Saturday with back-to-back home runs to lead off the game from David Smith and Erik Stock.
Maryland responded with a solo home run of its own in the third inning and tied the game up in the fifth with back-to-back singles to knot it at 2-2.
UConn took back the lead in the bottom of the inning with an RBI groundout from Ben Huber, but it wasn’t until the seventh and Donlan’s home run that the floodgates truly opened.
After the UConn catcher’s three-run jack, the offense really kicked into gear in the bottom of the eighth. Padilla doubled to start the inning off, then Zach Bushling sent him home with a home run to right field, his first of the postseason. Back-to-back doubles from Stock and Dana combined with a single from Ben Huber finished off the insurance run bonanza to make it 10-2.
Maryland got a few back off of UConn closer Justin Willis in the ninth inning, but he eventually turned the screw and secured the final outs of the inning.
UConn will face the winner of Wake Forest and No. 15 Maryland on Sunday at 7 p.m. for a shot at its first Super Regional appearance since 2011.