Chiovitti and the Huskies are headed to Oklahoma

Storrs — Mike Chiovitti is as laid back as a day on the beach.

"You can never tell if he's down or he's up," UConn baseball coach Jim Penders said. "He's always steady — 72 degrees and sunny."

Monday's news that UConn earned an NCAA tournament bid gave Chiovitti reason to ramp up his excitement level. The Huskies had punched their postseason ticket by finishing as the runnerup in the American Athletic Conference Championship.

A former UConn Avery Point standout from Thomaston, Chiovitti will travel to Oklahoma with his fellow Huskies to take on third-seeded Nebraska in the four-team Oklahoma City Regional. The opening game is at 1 p.m. Friday.

Top-seeded Oklahoma State plays No. 4 Harvard in the other game.

"Very excited," Chiovitti said on Monday after watching the selection show at Burton Family Football Complex. "Fun time to be playing baseball."

Stillwater, Okla., was the original regional site until weather issues forced a change of venue to Oklahoma City's Chickasaw Bricktown Park.

It's familiar territory for Chiovitti, who played in the NJCAA World Series in Enid, Okla., in his first season at Avery Point. The Pointers flew to Stillwater before completing the trip to Enid where they won their first game before dropping the next two.

"A buddy texted me and said, 'Good vibes in Oklahoma.' I had a good tournament there the last time I was there so hopefully I can keep it up."

Mired in a prolonged offensive funk while playing a limited role for most of the season, Chiovitti, a junior outfielder in his first season at Storrs, made a confidence-boosting contribution down the stretch after entering the starting lineup May 17 against Tulane. Penders shuffled the lineup due to an injury to Anthony Nucerino.

Chiovitti responded, delivering three hits and two RBI to help UConn win a crucial three-game regular-season ending series at Tulane. Then he chipped in a game-tying two-run double in Saturday's 8-3 win over Wichita State that propelled the Huskies into the championship game. He added a double and RBI in a 22-5 loss to Cincinnati in Sunday's final.

He's had five of his six hits and five of his seven RBI this season in the last seven games.

"I just did what I could to help the team out," Chiovitti said.

The Huskies are finally starting to see signs of the productive Chiovitti who earned third team NJCAA Division II All-American honors in 2017 at Avery Point, batting .389 with 13 doubles, 11 home runs and 40 RBI in 42 games.

"He was their best hitter, best offensive player," Penders said. "And he has really struggled offensively. We thought he'd be our starting center fielder in the fall and he kind of trailed off a little bit and his preseason was not good. His early season at-bats were not great.

"And he just didn't really win the spot. When Nucerino went down, we needed something. Christian Fedko was struggling and it was time to put (Michael Woodworth) over at second base. We needed somebody to play the outfield, really just on defense.

"He's always been very good defensively. He's always given us a contribution defensively. He's been a defensive replacement. But he got a couple key hits for us this past tournament."

Chiovitti has gone down an interesting path on his way to UConn.

After a terrific Holy Cross High School career, he took a post-graduate year at IMG Academy in Florida and then landed at East Carolina where he stayed for about a month.

After being cut from the baseball team, Chiovitti headed home and ended up at Avery Point the next spring. He learned a great deal from assistant coach Ed Harvey.

"Mr. Harvey was my hitting coach there," Chiovitti said. "He helped me out a lot. He completely changed my swing. I probably wouldn't be here without him. He helped me learn how to play college baseball."

Chiovitti feels good heading into his first NCAA tournament. The second-seeded Huskies (36-23) are riding momentum from a strong finish.

His laid-back approach should come in handy dealing with the pressure of playing in the postseason.

"I'm pretty chill for the most part," Chiovitti said. "I just roll with things."

He hopes sunnier days are ahead after putting some tough times behind him.

"It's been a long, crazy road," Chiovitti said. "It paid off well. I thought my baseball career was pretty much over and now I'm here, so it worked out."

g.keefe@theday.com

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