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By Matt McDonough, Sports Editor
UConn men’s basketball coach Jim Calhoun was late.
Calhoun was later than expected to a scheduled mid-week media availability meeting in the underbelly of Gampel Pavilion. After the coach emerged from the blocked off men’s basketball hallway, he explained to the press that baseball coach Jim Penders and a couple of recruits had visited his office for a meeting. Calhoun commended the job Penders was doing at UConn before talking about his own team who, although struggling at the time, was on its way to a national championship.
Of course the baseball team didn’t win a national championship this summer. And with the men’s basketball team winning a third NCAA championship this spring, it still wouldn’t hurt if Penders took his recruits to talk to a Hall of Fame coach about the prestige of UConn athletics and the progress the baseball team has made in recent years.
But there will come a time when Penders won’t have to take his prospective athletic students to visit a basketball arena.
Although the Huskies fell to the defending champion Gamecocks at South Carolina in the Super Regional last weekend, it was just another needed step in the right direction. Dubbed the “Pride of New England,” UConn played in front of a national television audience on ESPN 2 and ESPNU in the program’s first Super Regional. Although the Huskies have made the College World Series five times, it’s been 32 years since the last trip. A much different and much easier format favored Northeast schools then, now it’s nearly impossible for a New England school to make it to Omaha. Still, Omaha was the Huskies season goal.
Although UConn didn’t achieve two of its goals, the College World Series and a Big East tournament championship, the Huskies still captured the conference regular season title and the Clemson Regional. With its back to the wall after a 13-1 defeat at the hands of Coastal Carolina on the Regional’s first day., UConn climbed back. The Huskies went on to beat in-state foe Sacred Heart 13-3, eliminated the Chanticleers 12-6 then pushed Clemson to the brink of elimnation with a 7-6 walkoff win. Ryan Fuller’s game-winning hit made it a winner-take-all Regional Final on Monday June 6.
June 6 is famous for the beginning of the World War II D Day invasion. June 6, 2011 may go down as the greatest day in program history. The Huskies romped the Tigers 14-1 on their home field. During the game, George Springer and Matt Barnes were both selected in the MLB First-Year Player Draft’s first round. Eight other players would be selected over the next two days. UConn was going to its first Super Regional with its two highest draft selections ever.
The run, however, would end as the Huskies fell to South Carolina the next weekend 5-1 and 8-2, respectively. As USC’s closer Matt Price was mobbed by his teammates, ESPNU cameras panned to the UConn dugout, full of long faces. The Huskies had ample opportunities in both games, and based on the season goal, losing two games shy of the World Series was a disappointment for the players. UConn was outclassed by the reigning champions. Barnes, their ace didn’t come through in the first game and the Huskies offense seemed to end every inning with a double play in the clincher.
When interviewed by ESPN between innings, Penders seemed to deflect all credit away from him, saying he hadn’t built anything noting that UConn has always had a good baseball program.
He was half right. History supports the latter portion of his statement, but Penders, the Big East Coach of the Year, has built something in the state of Connecticut. UConn hosted a Regional last year, played off-campus games in New Britain and Norwich this season and has had three first-round picks in the last two years. It’s now a place for players who want to play at the next level. The seniors and juniors who move onto professional careers can hang their hats on the fact that they made baseball relevant at UConn again. It may always be in the shadow of bigger sports, but baseball is on its way to regularly sharing some of the Storrs spotlight.
The thing to do now is to improve J.O. Christian Field. It will never have the mystique and championships that college ballparks in Louisiana, Texas, Arizona and California do, but it does have the potential to be a great baseball facility. I’ve always considered the Huskies’ home in Storrs to have charm, but when Eastern Connecticut (Divison III) and Southern Connecticut (Division II), although both successful programs, have far better baseball fields that the state’s flagship university, it’s a problem. At least add some seatbacks to those cold, metal bleachers.
Improvements to J.O. Christian field would help recruiting, especially with TCU added to the Big East. UConn would actually be able to host a Regional on its campus. It would give Penders a place to market because someday, sooner rather than later, there will be College World Series appearances.
The Pride of New England will receive regular national recognition and UConn baseball will speak for itself.
And Penders won’t have to show recruits the banners in Gampel Pavilion anymore.
By Colin McDonough, Associate Sports Editor
Prior to the regular season, George Springer and Matt Barnes said that winning championships were naturally the team’s only goals in 2011. After beating Louisville 7-5 at J.O. Christian Field in Storrs Saturday, the No. 18 UConn baseball team clinched its first ever outright Big East regular season championship. The win moved the Huskies’ record to 36-14-1 overall, with a 20-4 mark in the conference.
Springer smacked his 11th home run of the season against the Cardinals. The homer gave the junior 45 career round trippers, which is tops in school history.
Last season UConn failed to win the Big East regular season title in the regular season’s final weekend. In postseason play, the Huskies lost the Big East tournament championship to St. John’s. The baseball team’s accomplishments adds to UConn’s incredible athletic year. The university now owns Big East championships in football, women’s basketball, men’s basketball, track and field and baseball, all coming this academic year.
When the Big East tournament begins May 25 in Clearwater, Fla. the Huskies will be the No. 1 seed and look to add to UConn’s conference dominance.
By Colin McDonough, Associate Sports Editor
The most highly touted recruit in UConn football history is leaving Storrs after just two seasons.
Dwayne Difton, a receiver that came to UConn from St. Thomas Aquinas in Florida, is transferring from the university, according to the Hartford Courant. Difton could not be reached for comment.
Difton came to UConn with some of the highest expectations of any player in program history, but only finished his two years as a Husky with 22 receptions for 195 yards and no touchdowns. He bounced in and out of the starting line up last season during UConn’s Big East championship run and Fiesta Bowl appearance.
We will keep you posted if Difton is available for comment.
Matt McDonough, Sports Editor
Winners of their last five games, the UConn baseball has all but clinched a regular season Big East championship. Although the Big East got three NCAA bids last season, with Louisville (regular season champ), St. John’s (tournament champ) and UConn (at-large Regional host) all playing in the national tournament. Baseball America projects the Big East conference, usually a one-bid league, to have no teams safely in the tournament, but according to Aaron Fitt the Huskies are on the bubble (in).
UConn swept South Florida Mother’s Day weekend 2-1, 9-5 and 2-0, respectively. The first game of the series was at Dodd Stadium in Norwich and the Huskies and Bulls finished the three-game slate at J.O. Christian Field in Storrs. The three victories improved UConn’s conference record to 18-3, 34-13-1 overall, and the Huskies are sitting pretty in first place of the Big East, 4 1/2 games ahead of second-place St. John’s. First-round MLB Draft prospects, center fielder George Springer and right-handed pitcher Matt Barnes, are carrying the team. Springer leads in major hitting categories with 10 home runs, 64 RBIs, a .376 batting average and a .473 on-base percentage. Barnes is 9-3 with a 1.38 ERA.
The Huskies still have to win a few more games to clinch the title. They close out the home schedule this weekend against Louisville. Friday’s 6 p.m. game is in Norwich, and the final two games, on Saturday and Sunday, are on-campus with 1 p.m. and 12 p.m. first pitch times, respectively. UConn will go on the road the following week with mid-week matchups at Rhode Island and Northeastern before finishing up the regular season at Cincinnati the weekend of May 19.
As the baseball team continues to get close to one of its goals, another UConn team already accomplished theirs. The men’s track team, who surprised the field in the winter capturing the indoor Big East championship, won the outdoor conference title on Sunday, Graduation Day. Aaron King was the Big East Outstanding Field Performer. The usual suspects, King, Tyrone Faverey, Mike Rutt and Dan Holst paced the team. Kashif Moore, Darnell Cummings, Kevin Smith and Jesse Drinks won the 4 x 100-meter relay with a school record time of 40.69. For Moore, a captain of the football team, it was his third Big East title of the year. Prior to Sunday Moore won the Big East as a wide receiver on the 2010 football team and a member of the indoor team.
By Colin McDonough, Associate Sports Editor
One of the best years in school history has come to a close at UConn as summer vacation is upon us.
The football team won the Big East and played in the Fiesta Bowl in the Huskies’ first BCS bowl game. The women’s basketball team made its fourth straight Final Four after winning 90 games in a row. And saving the best for last, the men’s basketball team won the National Championship on April 4, 53-41 over Butler. It capped off Kemba Walker’s career in Storrs and gave Jim Calhoun a third NCAA title.
Now the time of reflection has begun after a great year to be at UConn. But that doesn’t mean The Daily Campus won’t stay up to date with the Huskies. Check this blog, and http://www.dailycampus.com for stories and updates on the UConn baseball team, as they try to make a return trip to the NCAA tournament. There will also be posts on whether or not Calhoun will return at the helm for UConn in its defense of the national championship, as well as preparation for the football team’s first season with Paul Pasqualoni as head coach.
By: Matt and Colin McDonough
With Spring Weekend here, it’s time to continue the celebration of the 2011 UConn men’s basketball team. Here are YouTube clips, granted some are very poor quality, of a Kemba Walker highlight reel, his buzzer beater against Pitt and the endings to the Big East, West Regional and National championships. As a bonus, videos from 1999 and 2004, the Huskies’ previous two championships are included as well. Note: The Daily Campus does not own the rights to the videos.