A wonderful postseason run for the UConn baseball team came to an end Sunday afternoon, as the Huskies fell 7-5 to Georgia Tech for their second loss in NCAA Gainesville Regional action. The loss bounced UConn from the NCAA tournament and closed the book on a 38-25 season, the fourth-most single-season wins in the program’s history.
“I’m very proud of the way that our guys competed throughout the season, especially in the last three or four weeks and in this tournament. To leave as American (Athletic Conference tournament) champions, I think they obviously left the program in good shape for moving forward,” UConn coach Jim Penders said after Sunday’s loss.
The Huskies stamped their ticket to the 2016 NCAA tournament by winning the American Athletic Conference championship last weekend. During Monday’s selection show, UConn was awarded a No. 3 seed in the Gainesville Regional, behind No. 1 Florida and No. 2 Georgia Tech.
The Huskies began play in the double-elimination regional with a 7-6 win over Georgia Tech on Friday afternoon. UConn scored all seven of their runs in the second inning, with five hitters knocking in at least one run. Freshman starter Tim Cate pitched into the seventh inning before the Husky bullpen closed out a tight victory.
UConn met Florida in the winner’s bracket on Saturday afternoon, where they fell 6-5 to the top-seeded Gators. Staff ace Anthony Kay got the starting nod for the Huskies, allowing five runs (four earned) in 5.2 innings of work. The two teams traded runs for much of the contest before Florida took the lead for good with an eighth-inning home run.
With a trip to the regional final on the line, UConn took the field against Georgia Tech again on Sunday afternoon. The Huskies sent sophomore starter Wills Montgomerie to the mound to face the Yellow Jackets’ Ben Parr.
Georgia Tech leapt onto the scoreboard first, tagging Montgomerie for five runs in the top of the fourth inning. Joey Bart smashed a three-run home run to cap off the scoring and put UConn in a relatively deep hole.
“They got to me in that fourth inning pretty well,” Montgomerie said after the game. “The first two or three innings, I was able to locate my fastball, but by that fourth inning, I was leaving them middle. They did a good job staying with it and staying back on my curveball. Hats off to them for doing that.”
As they have done often in the past few weeks, the Huskies battled back. Bryan Daniello cut the lead to 5-1 with an RBI double in the fourth inning, and a run-scoring balk in the fifth trimmed the lead further. UConn inched even closer with a pair of runs in the sixth, as John Toppa and Alex LeFevre recorded RBI.
The Huskies completed the comeback with a run-scoring double from Toppa in the eighth inning, knotting the score at five apiece.
Penders talked about his team’s resolve after the game.
“We pride ourselves on having grit and determination. That’s something that you have to have at UConn, and we’re proud of that. We’re proud of our work ethic and where that comes from,” Penders said.
Unfortunately for the Huskies, they fell behind again in the ninth inning as Georgia Tech pushed two runs across to take a 7-5 lead. UConn could not rally in their final chance at the plate as the Yellow Jackets claimed the win and moved on to the regional final.
With an impressive 2016 season in the rearview mirror, the program will look to move on without a host of contributing seniors.
“It’s incredibly hard to see the guys that just played the last game in our uniform,” Penders said of his departing seniors after the game. “They gave every drop of energy and sweat and tears to the program over the years. They left it better than they found it.”
Tyler Keating is associate sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.