Make that three UConn teams in the Sweet 16 this year.
Yes, while you were busy settling into your summer routine (and probably trying desperately to get your air conditioner in the window before fainting from heat stroke) the UConn baseball team was blowing through their Regional in South Carolina en route to the Super Regionals (i.e., the final 16).
Oh, and by the way, they also had two players – George Springer (No. 11), Matt Barnes (No. 19) – drafted in the top 20 of Monday’s First Year Player Draft. That’s only the first time in school history that has happened. In fact, the highest player ever drafted from the school was former Indians pitcher Charles Nagy (No. 17 in 1988).
Basically what I’m saying is – I forgive you, there’s still plenty of room on the bandwagon.
It didn’t start off pretty in their Regional, hosted by Clemson, last weekend. For those who don’t follow college baseball, it’s structured in the opposite fashion from the basketball tournaments. There are still 64 teams (I know, I know, basketball has 68 now), but instead of four regions of 16 teams, there are 16 regions of four teams.
Clemson was designated as the host and No. 1 seed in the Region, along with Coastal Carolina, Sacred Heart and, of course, UConn. The aforementioned Matt Barnes started the opening game against Coastal Carolina … and was promptly destroyed. They lost 13-1. Not exactly a great start.
It would’ve been easy to pack it in and say “nice season, boys,” but the team showed impressive resilience. They won their next four games in a row, including two win-or-go-home games against host Clemson, by a combined score of 46-16. The team batted .393 over those four games. And that’s with the new bats the NCAA mandated this year to keep scoring down.
For that awe-inspiring display of offense, the Huskies were rewarded … by having to face defending national champions South Carolina in the Super Regionals. Hey, at least they’re getting to know the state of South Carolina pretty well.
In the Super Regionals, teams play a best-of-three series. The winner goes to the College World Series in Omaha. It gets underway Saturday at 6 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN2.
And that leads me to the draft. Remember that Matt Barnes guy I mentioned being drafted at No. 19 overall. Yeah, the team picking No. 19 – that would be the Boston Red Sox. ESPN.com’s Keith Law (a must follow on Twitter) said he “loved” the pick. And Law, to put it mildly, is not exactly one to shower praise on anyone he sees.
Barnes will start the game Saturday. So, Red Sox fans, if you want to see your potential No. 1 starter in a couple years, check out the game for that reason alone. (Yankees fans might want to check out former coach Lee Mazzilli’s son L.J., who plays second base and leads off.)
A common saying in sports is “a banner year.” In fact, it has become so common that it isn’t event used accurately most of the time. It has become synonymous with “a great year” or “record-setting year.” Both of those things accurately describe UConn’s 2011 season. Neither are “a banner year.”
Two more wins, a trip to Omaha and you can use it literally.