UConn baseball pushed Xavier to the edge at Prasco Park but fell just short of the ultimate prize on Saturday. The Huskies defeated the Musketeers, 6-4, to force a winner-take-all Big East Tournament championship, needing two wins over the undefeated Musketeers to take home the hardware, but fell 7-3 in the do-or-die second game and walked away empty-handed.
UConn will still expect to hear its name called on Monday as participants in the NCAA Tournament, but the end of its reign over the Big East since returning is certainly a disappointment.
UConn put itself in position for a shot at the Big East championship in the first half of the twin bill with a 6-4 win.
The game was locked at 3-3 after five innings until the Huskies scored two runs in the sixth and one in the seventh to force a winner-take-all Big East championship game.
Team captain David Smith led by example from the top of the lineup. going 4-for-5 with an RBI and two runs scored. Ben Huber also crossed the plate twice, with a solo home run, a double and a walk.
UConn crowded the bases early and often in the game, scoring one run in each inning from the first to third to go up 3-0.
Singles from Smith, Dominic Freeberger and Jake Studley got the scoring started in the first, and UConn kept it going in the second. Bryan Padilla drew a walk to start the inning, and made his way around the basepaths after a sacrifice bunt, a single from Korey Morton and an RBI single from Smith. In the third inning, Huber led off with a double and was sent home via a sacrifice fly by Luke Broadhurst.
UConn’s deep dive into their pitching staff began in game one, handing redshirt freshman Thomas Ellisen just the third start of his career. The Wisconsinite acquitted himself well in his first postseason start, going 4 1⁄3 innings and allowing just a single earned run with five strikeouts.
Unfortunately for the Huskies, it was the unearned run that started the scoring for Xavier — an errant throw from Bryan Padilla made it 3-1 Huskies. The Musketeers scored twice in the fifth inning with a two-RBI single, tying it up at 3-3, but the Huskies had other plans.
UConn took the lead back in the sixth inning, scoring two on a failed pickoff attempt by the Xavier catcher, and added one more for good measure with Huber’s solo home run in the seventh.
Left-hander Zach Fogell entered in relief of Ellisen, throwing three one-run innings, and Justin Willis was able to earn his 11th save of the season by earning the last four outs of the game.
After an emotional win in the opener to force the second game, UConn’s run in the Big East Tournament came to an end in the winner-take-all second game, falling 7-3 to Xavier, which won the Big East Tournament for the first time since 2017.
The Huskies led 3-2 entering the top of the ninth inning, when Xavier scored five on the UConn bullpen, which ran out of gas after being forced to play five games in four days.
The Huskies’ pitching depth had been cracking all weekend, but on Saturday the unit was blown wide open. Starter Jack Sullivan was only able to contribute two innings, and Garrett Coe, Wednesday’s starting pitcher, delivered a valiant 5 2⁄3 innings of one-run ball, but after that, a trio of relievers combined to give up five runs on two hits and four walks, while securing just four outs.
UConn closer Justin Willis got the last out of the eighth inning, but wasn’t at his sharpest when he entered the ninth, hitting the first batter he saw and walking the second. After a two-run triple and a sacrifice fly, Willis was replaced by Brady Afthim. He couldn’t get a handle on the game either and handed the ball to Will Nowak after three free passes, who mercifully was able to end the inning on a pop fly.
UConn’s offense could have kept up, but runners left on base hamstrung the offense late in the game. The Huskies left the bases loaded in the sixth, despite an RBI single from Ben Huber to put them up 2-1, and two on in the seventh after an RBI double from David Smith made it 3-2.
Head coach Jim Penders and his team will wait for its NCAA Tournament marching orders. The Selection Show airs at 12 p.m. on ESPN2.