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NCAA Tournament: UConn baseball eliminates Florida A&M, 9-6

It was tighter than the Huskies may have wanted, but they are on to Sunday’s elimination game.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn baseball’s bats got the memo after a three-hit performance on Friday, as eight Huskies got into the hit column, four of which did so multiple times, slugging their way to a 9-6 win over Florida A&M in an elimination game in the Gainesville Regional on Saturday.

The game got off to a better start than Friday, though the Huskies left some runs on the table early in the contest. Dominic Freeberger reached with a single and Ben Huber, who was 3-for-4 on the day, drilled a double off the base of the left field wall in the first, but head coach Jim Penders sent Freeberger home to try and score from first and he was cut down at the plate to keep it scoreless after one-half inning.

In the second, Luke Broadhurst and Matt Garbowski each worked walks on Rattlers ace Hunter Viets, but were left stranded. Jake Studley brought UConn its first run in the third as he singled past a diving Jalen Niles at shortstop to plate Freeberger, who had beat out the back end of a double play, but the Huskies left the bases loaded as Ryan Daniels missed on a 3-1 pitch and Jared Weber made the play just inside the wall in foul territory.

Thomas Ellisen got the start and struggled to keep the ball down, as Florida A&M drilled a pair of deep solo home runs off of the redshirt freshman, one by Weber over the left field berm in the first and another to right field by Ty Hanchey, with a few other loud outs over his three innings of work. He allowed just the two runs on three hits, with zero walks and one strikeout.

Down 2-1 after three innings, UConn broke through in the fourth, grabbing a trio of runs to take a 4-2 lead. Matt Garbowski led off the frame with a double and got to third on a productive out, tying the game on a David Smith single up the middle.

The next batter, Paul Tammaro, nearly went yard, but Smith had to wait to make sure it didn’t get caught, stopping him at third. Freeberger hit a sacrifice fly to Janmikell Bastardo in right, who didn’t realize there was only one out and didn’t come up firing, enabling Tammaro to move up 90 feet and permitting the final run to come across on an infield single.

Joe Carrea came on to pitch the bottom of the fourth and Bastardo made up for his error, as he hammered a two-seam fastball that leaked over the middle of the plate, but UConn got a run back on a second hard Smith single up the middle to preserve the two-run advantage.

Carrea walked the first batter he faced in the fifth and Penders went to go get him for Devin Kirby, who has been able to give UConn reliable innings out of the bullpen all season. He allowed the inherited run to score, as Sebastian Greico just beat out the back end of a double play that would have ended the inning, then another, as on the ensuing batter, he Garbowski airmailed his throw into center field to try and catch Greico stealing, which eliminated the Huskies’ lead and tied the game 5-5.

After that, Kirby did what he needed to do, working around just a two-out double through the middle innings, though Joseph Pierini did go yard in the eighth. Kirby contributed four innings of work, allowing two runs.

UConn went down in order in the sixth and seventh, but as Zach Morea seemed to tire, the Huskies struck for a three-spot again in the eighth.

Korey Morton led off the frame and worked a walk and wasted no time getting into scoring position, stealing second on the first pitch. Smith moved him to third with a productive out and a safety squeeze gave Penders’ squad an advantage they wouldn’t give back. Huber would add some insurance with a two-run shot before the eighth was through.

UConn (44-16) will play another elimination game on Sunday at 12 p.m., facing off against the loser of Saturday night’s winners’ bracket game between No. 2 Florida and Texas Tech.