“The guys should feel like they’re earned this, they can enjoy it and play good baseball.”
[Head coach Jim Penders]
/Photo by Brandon Barzola/The Daily Campus/
UConn’s series win against Tulane in the final weekend of the regular season was a huge confidence booster for the team, critical in all but securing an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
But, as Matt Schultz famously said in his 2008 No. 1 hit, there ain’t no rest for the wicked. UConn travels to sweltering Clearwater, Florida this week to try and do what they haven’t done since 2016: win the American Athletic Conference baseball tournament, at it bright and early at 9 a.m. on Tuesday.
“This is the postseason, we’re done with the hard stuff. We’ve gone through a grueling, grueling regular season, the toughest I can recall,” head coach Jim Penders said. “The guys should feel like they’re earned this, they can enjoy it and play good baseball.”
Where to watch
All of UConn’s games up until the championship will be broadcast live on the American Digital Network or you can tune on on 97.9 ESPN if you’re on the road, mowing the lawn, taking a jog, whenever.
When to watch
What to watch for
Unfortunately, the side of the bracket the Huskies have found themselves on won’t do them any favors. As a four seed, they’ll be the ‘home’ side against five-seeded Houston. If they win, they’ll likely face East Carolina and their ace Jake Agnos, who was one out away from tossing a complete game shutout the last time he faced the Huskies.
UConn’s hopes on offence this week will hinge on freshman Patrick Winkel, the final American Player of the Week of the regular season. During the past seven days, he’s hit .500 with three multi-hit games and 11 RBI, and he seems primed to play this year’s role of postseason hero, filled by Christian Fedko in 2018.
UConn’s offense was stagnant in the middle of the year with Patrick Winkel in and out of the lineup due to injury, but as his bat has gone later in the year, so have the Huskies — They’re 11-6 in games where he’s recorded an RBI.
After sliding into the DH spot in place of banged-up Kyler Fedko and Thad Phillips in the Tulane series, Paul Gozzo has made the most of his chances. He went 4-12 against his former team, and has six hits in his last five games, likely cementing himself as a DH option this weekend.
With the grueling double elimination format, the Huskies’ pitching depth will be tested. UConn could pitch Feole on Tuesday morning, or could wait for the second game for a potential showdown against the best lineup in the conference. Kersten will be the second starter, then Jimmy Wang, Colby Dunlop, or Joe Simeone could all get a shot — all three have starter experience this year.
Luckily, two young arms have also emerged this season from the bullpen — freshmen Caleb Wurster and Karl Johnson. Wurster has a 2.75 ERA and .265 batting average against, the latter good enough for second on the team behind the Huskies All-Conference closer Jacob Wallace. A future starter in the coaches’ eyes, Johnson will definitely get chances to flash his back-breaking knuckle curve as UConn stretches their bench.
UConn faced Houston in their first conference series this season, taking two games out of three. They’re led, as usual, by third baseman Jared Triolo and big bopper Joe Davis, the only two members on the roster hitting over .300.
The key to double elimination tournaments is staying out of the losers’ bracket. That’ll be difficult on the same side of the bracket as fifth-ranked in RPI ECU, who swept the Huskies in the regular season, but defeating Houston in the first round will be a good step forward.
Luke Swanson is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org