May 30, 2013
By Chris Jones
WHUS-91.7 FM Baseball Play-By-Play Announcner
Last Sunday the University of Connecticut baseball team experienced one of the ultimate highs of being a college player - they won the BIG EAST conference tournament and punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies is the fourth seeded team in the Blacksburg Regional and are looking to continue their hot streak in the heat of Virginia. UConn opens play in the NCAA Regional on Friday at 5:30 p.m. against the host Hokies (ESPN3, WTIC.com and WHUS-91.7 FM).
It was a few weeks ago that the Huskies may have hit their turning point in this very same state. The Huskies limped into their final series of the year losing 11 of 12 in BIG EAST play and riding a season long six-game losing streak. The team struggled to drive in runners in scoring position, get bunts down and make plays in the field. But it seemed like things changed once school ended and UConn took a bus trip down to George Mason in Fairfax, Va., in a three-game non-conference series.
For many, the trip was overlooked and looked at as just three games that the Huskies needed to finish before starting the BIG EAST Tournament. But it was there, in Fairfax, Virginia, where the Huskies started to click and took two out of three games from the Patriots.
"Guys started putting good at bats together," said Penders after the BIG EAST Championship win on Sunday. "We got some key hits in that series that got our confidence up and prepared us for the tournament."
In that series, UConn had big home runs from Max McDowell and Vinny Siena that put UConn ahead in their two victories. For Siena, who had struggled down the stretch, it was his first home run as a Husky and from that point forward seemed to be a springboard for the freshmen, as he produced for the Huskies throughout the tournament. Siena during the BIG EAST Tournament was 7-17 (.411 avg. with four RBI).
LJ Mazzilli hit a ninth-inning home run in game two which was his first homer since March 23 against Georgetown. Seeing that ball go over the fence may have helped Mazzilli's confidence with the long ball as almost a week later against Notre Dame in the championship game Mazz hit a two run homer to give UConn the early 2-0 lead.
For Carson Cross it was a chance to get a chance to bounce back after he lost against Louisville the week before. Carson was able to pitch six innings allowing two runs and had seven strikeouts against the Patriots and picked up the victory. That performance carried over into the BIG EAST Tournament as Cross pitched one of the best performances of the year against the Cardinals, pitching into the tenth inning and giving UConn a chance to win - which they did.
In that series against George Mason displayed better defense, were able to get bunts down, ran the bases better and had good two strike hitting which all carried over into the BIG EAST Tournament. That non-conference series seemed to be the perfect way to regroup before playing down in Clearwater.
Who knows if the George Mason series was the turning point for the Huskies in winning the BIG EAST Tournament. But what we do know is that UConn is now playing with a lot of confidence and the wins are starting to pile up. The Huskies know that gives them a shot at dog piling in Blacksburg, Virginia.