[UPDATE Sunday, May 30 at noon - The University of Connecticut baseball team battled Rutgers to a 7-4 victory into the early hours of Sunday morning to advance to the 2010 BIG EAST Baseball Championship Final at Bright House Field [FLA] The Huskies will face St. John’s on Sunday in the 12:04 p.m. contest, which will be televised live on ESPNU. St. John’s enters the ballgame undefeated in postseason play this season after defeating top-seeded Louisville on Saturday night 5-3 to advance to the championship game. The Huskies defeated Rutgers twice on Saturday to earn the right to play in the championship contest. With the win, UConn improves to 47-13.Also, the 16 NCAA Baseball Regional sites will be announced on the afternoon of Sunday, May 30 on ESPN News and on http://www.ncaa.com. And the NCAA Baseball Selection show will be aired live on ESPN on Monday, May 31 at 12:30 p.m. – Kristin Altieri, UConn Athletic Communications]
CLEARWATER, FLA. – It took UConn five hours, 10 innings, 11 runs, 16 hits and four pitchers to finally defeat Rutgers in a Big East Baseball Championship semifinal Saturday afternoon [May 29], and to set up a rubber match between the two schools to determine which team advances to the title game on Sunday at noon (ESPNU).
Billy Ferriter stroked a two-out single that bounded off the first baseman’s glove, and allowed Kevin Vance to score from second base – giving the Huskies a hard-fought 11-10 victory.
“That’s got to be the best baseball game I’ve ever been involved in,” said seven-year UConn Head Coach Jim Penders. “The kids played their guts out. They were like two heavyweights out there, clawing at each other, trying to throw the knockout punch,” he said.
Earlier in the tournament, it had been Rutgers (30-25) that landed the first punch, beating UConn (46-13) by a score of 6-5 and dropping the second-seeded Huskies into the losers’ bracket.
But on Saturday, it was UConn that came away with the one-run win over the sixth-seeded Scarlet Knights.
Sophomore Nick Ahmed, who started the game at shortstop, came in to pitch in the top of the ninth after a 40-minute lightning delay.
Inheriting a two-on, no-out situation, he promptly got an out on a fouled sacrifice bunt, and caught the shallow pop in foul territory. (In the 10th, Ahmed made another athletic catch, running full speed to spear a pop-up near the Rutgers dugout.)
“Coach tells me to take charge out there,” said Ahmed who was, in effect, playing a very short shortstop from the mound (a pair of pretty putouts, plus an assist in his two innings pitched).
“I just went in there and tried to throw strikes, get some outs and bring up our bats and try to win the game,” said the 6-foot-2 right-hander from East Longmeadow, Mass. who hadn’t pitched since April 6.
“Nick is such a great competitor and a tremendous athlete,” Penders said of Ahmed, who picked up his first decision of the season. “He showed what he can do, coming in in that big spot for us. He was just awesome.”
With Ahmed showing off his defensive wizardry, his replacement didn’t get a chance to flash much leather in the infield. But he did manage to score the winning run. Kevin Vance, who reached on a one-out error in the bottom of the tenth and then advanced to second on a grounder by catcher Doug Elliot, scored the game winner when Rutgers first baseman Jaren Matthews threw high to the plate.
“A good throw would have had me, but the throw was high and the catcher left his feet and I slid right into him,” Vance said. “He was blocking the plate, so I had to go over him,” said Vance who had to scramble over the catcher to get his hand on the plate before being mobbed by teammates.
“We were fortunate on that last play,” Coach Penders said.
The tension in the late innings of this game was as thick as the menacing clouds that hovered over Bright House Network Field throughout the afternoon, causing the ninth-inning delay that led to Coach Penders’ moves, which ultimately led to a victory.
UConn starting pitcher Robert Van Woert gave up three runs in the first inning, including a leadoff homer by outfielder Michael Lang, but his teammates doubled that in the home half of the first.
The Huskies led 6-3 after the first, keyed by a two-run home run by dh LJ Mazzilli (yes, he’s former major leaguer Lee Mazzilli’s son).
Rutgers eventually tied the game in the fifth, and knocked out Van Woert, who gave up 15 hits in his 4+ innings worked.
The Knights then took a 10-7 lead with a three-run seventh off reliever David Fischer, who gave way to fellow sophomore Scott Oberg.
It didn’t take the Huskies long to take Fischer off the hook: Elliot slammed a three-run homer in the bottom of the seventh to tie the game at 10.
Oberg held Rutgers scoreless in his 1.1-inning stint and he was on the mound when the umpires ordered the game halted due to the threat of lightning.
UConn centerfielder George Springer, the 2009 Big East Rookie of the Year, was on base six times in the game, getting two hits and four walks.
Rutgers’ fifth pitcher of the game, Tyler Gebler, took the loss to drop to 1-3 this season.
Coach Penders said he plans to start 6-foot-5 freshman Pat Butler (2-1) in the nightcap against Rutgers which is expected to begin around 8 p.m. tonight [WHUS 91.7 FM], shortly after the St. John’s-Louisville game.
“Pat is very capable of giving us a good start and I have all the confidence he’s going to get it done for us,” Coach Penders said.
Posted May 29, 2010