UConn head baseball coach Jim Penders.
The 2013 Huskies baseball team had already exceeded expectations by the time they arrived in Blacksburg, Va. last week for the NCAA Regionals. Days before, UConn was the bottom seed in an eight-team Big East Tournament field and they went on to win the whole thing.
Still, this team is accustomed to postseason play; it has qualified for the NCAAs in three of the previous four seasons and "getting there" wasn't the reward -- winning was. And that's exactly what happened Friday when the Huskies stunned top-seeded Virginia Tech. Ultimately, the baseball gods had other ideas and UConn dropped back-to-back games against No. 2 Oklahoma and Virginia Tech, and now their season is officially over.
Trailing 3-1 in the ninth inning of Sunday's rematch against Tech, the Huskies had the winning run at the plate. But just like the day before against the Sooners, a double-play did UConn in. And that, as they say, was that.
That was a great college baseball game," UConn coach Jim Penders said afterward. "I have to give a lot of credit to coach (Pete) Hughes and Virginia Tech. Their starter on paper was a guy who hadn’t done a ton for them all year, but he did a ton for them today. It was a real quality start, and he kept us off balance just enough. He gave them a quality start and (UConn pitcher) Anthony Marzi gave us a quality start. …
"I am very proud of our effort and toughness," Penders continued. "Our kids were loose. I felt like they were ready to go, but to lose in extra innings it’s going to take a lot out of you physically and mentally. I don’t think either one of us swung the bats extremely well today."
Hughes added: "A two-run lead in the ninth isn't safe against kids with their makeup. They're tough, competitive kids, and very well-coached." Team leader LJ Mazzilli, who was drafted in the ninth round of the Major League draft in 2012 but returned for his senior season to get one more chance at the NCAAs, called the Huskies run one of the "highest of all my memories."
Those memories have to include a midseason slide that all but assured the Huskies of missing the NCAAs. The team dropped 11 of 12 Big East games before heading into the conference tournament as the No. 8 seed. Then, in much the same way the 2011 UConn men's basketball team got red hot at the right time, Penders' squad reeled off four straight wins for an automatic NCAA bid. They extended the streak to five against Tech on Friday, but the magic ran out over the weekend.
"We left it all out there, and it is tough because we will admit we aren’t the most talented team in this tournament," Mazzilli conceded, "but we have to come with a certain edge every game and use that to our advantage. Our edge is to keep that high energy, believe in each other and never be afraid of anything.”