UConn earns fifth straight trip to the NCAA baseball tournament
Storrs — Some people plan to spend Memorial Day at family cookouts or the beach.
The UConn baseball team expects to be gathering somewhere on campus to watch the NCAA Division I baseball tourrnament selection show.
The Huskies continued their Memorial Day routine on Monday, this time meeting in the upstairs lounge at the Toscano Family Ice Forum.
After successfully battling their way through a challenging, travel-heavy schedule, winning 43 games and earning a top 10 national ranking late in the season, they received their reward — an at-large bid — the program’s fifth straight postseason trip and 23rd overall.
UConn (43-15) will open tournament play on Friday at noon (ESPNU) against Texas Tech (39-21) in the Gainesville (Fla.) Regional. Florida (44-14) and Florida A&M (29-28) will meet in the other first round game in the double elimination event.
“It’s an awesome feeling,” said Luke Broadhurst, who won a Division III national championship with Eastern Connecticut State University last year before transferring to UConn. “You never get tired of seeing your name up on the screen and having the chance to play for a national championship.
“It starts now. It’s a blessing.”
Coach Jim Penders spoke to his team after the Selection Show. He asked them what they had in common with the men’s basketball team.
Both the baseball and basketball teams lost in the Big East tournament.
The basketball Huskies rebounded and went on a magical NCAA tournament run to win the national championship.
Now UConn baseball has an opportunity to make a deep run after losing to Xavier in the championship game on Saturday in Mason, Ohio.
“There’s bigger fish to fry right now and that’s where our focus has to be,” Penders said. “Xavier beat us, fair and square. They’re a good ballclub. But we’ve got to get up off the mat now. Seeing them dogpile should not hurt us. … That could wind up being a real catalyst for us moving forward.
“It’s not that hard to have these guys just look right down Jim Calhoun Way and see an example of a program that was able to flush that loss and get ready for their next opponent and then dominate in the national tournament.”
Last season, the Huskies fell just short of their quest to reach the College World Series for the first time since 1979, losing to host Stanford in the deciding game of the super regional.
UConn drew a tough bracket to start this postseason, with top-seeded Florida, the overall No. 2 seed, as the major roadblock. The Huskies are seeded second in the four-team regional with the Red Raiders, an at-large selection, third.
The Huskies have dealt with pressure the last few months while trying to stay in contention for an at-large bid.
Now they just go out and compete in the double-elimination format.
“In some ways, you can play freer and easier in the NCAA tournament,” Penders said. “The hard part is getting there. Not to say that Texas Tech is not going to be a difficult matchup for us in the first round, but the hard part is getting there. Now it’s survive and advance and play loose and have fun.”
The Huskies welcome the challenge and opportunity.
“It’s always nice knowing your college baseball season is going to go into June,” pitcher Garrett Coe said. “Nothing more we can ask. And we’re going to a great place like Florida and seeing the teams that we’ll see. We know we’re ready. I think this team is really good at addressing the task at hand and executing.”
Monday was a good day for New England baseball programs.
Boston College and Northeastern also earned at-large bids while Central Connecticut State University and Maine made the field as automatic qualifiers.
UConn will carry a boulder on its shoulder into the tournament.
“We’re just pumped to show the Northeast can compete with anybody,” Broadhurst said. “That’s a big chip that we have on our shoulder at all times.”
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