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CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Set to begin postseason play, the UConn baseball team (33-23) begins its run at the 2015 American Athletic Conference Championship on Wednesday at 3 p.m. The sixth-seeded Huskies will take on three-seed Tulane (33-21) at Bright House Field, spring training home of the Philadelphia Phillies and home of the minor league Clearwater Threshers. The contest can be seen on the American Digital Network and heard on WHUS, 91.7 FM.
The Huskies are set to compete in their 17th conference championship and hold a 33-26 record in those games all-time, with a 21-13 mark under Jim Penders. UConn has finished as tournament champion or runner-up four times under Penders, including an improbable run from eight-seed to the tournament crown in the final Big East Championship UConn competed in following the 2013 season. Last year playing in a now-defunct pool play format, the Huskies went 1-2 with a victory over No. 12 Houston and losses to UCF and Temple.
Connecticut and Tulane met for the first time in program histories earlier this season for a three-game set in New Orleans. The Huskies won two of three at Greer Field at Turchin Stadium, taking a 6-0 victory on March 27 and a 5-3 win on March 29 sandwiched around a 5-1 Tulane triumph on March 28.
The American named postseason award winners on Monday (May 18) night and UConn led all teams with seven All-Conference honorees, including four first team members. Carson Cross (Brentwood, N.H.) highlighted the awards with a unanimous first team selection and was named the league's Pitcher of the Year. He was joined on the All-Conference first team by Blake Davey (Newport Beach, Calif.), a repeat member, Anthony Kay (Stony Brook, N.Y.) and Vinny Siena (Woodbridge, Conn.). Rounding out the All-Conference Huskies were Max McDowell (North Huntingdon, Pa.), Jack Sundberg (Mansfield, Conn.) and Willy Yahn (Sharon, Conn.) picking up second team nods. The seven All-Conference members are the most for UConn since it had 11 following the 2011 season and Cross is the first Pitcher of the Year since Matt Barnes took home the award, also in 2011.
Siena leads the Huskies offensively this year with a .358 average, placing among the national leaders with 88 hits and 61 runs scored to go along with 14 doubles, seven home runs and a team-high 50 RBIs. Yahn places second behind Siena and third in The American with a .346 average, while Davey leads the league with 19 doubles and is third in the conference with 44 RBIs. Bobby Melley (Barnstable, Mass.) is hitting .323 with 18 doubles and Sundberg is tops in the conference with 31 stolen bases, placing second with 44 walks and third with 52 runs scored.
The UConn pitching staff is first in The American and ninth in the nation with a 2.90 ERA, led by front-end rotation pitchers Cross and Kay. Cross is 10-2 with a 2.18 ERA and a league-best 106 strikeouts, while Kay holds a 2.16 ERA and leads the conference with a 1.00 WHIP. Jordan Tabakman (Pompton Plains, N.J.) holds a 3.52 ERA and Andrew Zapata (Staten Island, N.Y.) is 5-0 in the midweek starter role. Nico Darras (Laguna Beach, Calif.) leads all relievers with 22 appearances and sports a 2.51 ERA, while closer Patrick Ruotolo (Peabody, Mass.) has amassed 48 strikeouts in 32.0 innings pitched.
Tulane finished the regular season with a 33-21 mark, placing third in The American standings with a 13-11 conference record. Stephen Alemais leads Tulane at the dish with a .319 average, adding a team-best 10 doubles, 39 runs scored and 25 stolen bases in an All-Conference season. Lex Kaplan tops the squad with five home runs and Hunter Williams leads the way with 26 RBIs. Tulane sports one of the top pitching staffs in the league with a cumulative 3.13 ERA. Corey Merrill holds a 2.13 ERA in 93.0 innings while four Tulane Starters have ERAs of 3.39 or better in 50 innings or more. Ian Gibaut leads the club with 24 appearances out of the bullpen and is 5-3 with a 2.38 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 41.2 innings.
The American Championship begins on Tuesday (May 19) and concludes with the title game on Sunday, May 24 at 12 p.m. With a double-elimination format, the Huskies could play as many as five games during the tournament. Depending on Wednesday's outcome, UConn will play next at either 11 a.m. or 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 21.