UConn Baseball with a Super Feeling

For the 1st time since 2011, the UConn Huskies baseball team is headed to the NCAA Super Regionals. While some are shocked by their NCAA Regional victory as a #3 seed, fans of this team knew a Super was a strong possibility in 2022. After spending much of the year in the top 25, reaching as high as #13, the ridiculous strength of schedule and RPI metrics not only put the Big East Champs out of the opportunity to host a regional, they pushed them down the line to a #3 seed. With a chip on their shoulder they traveled to Maryland with a singular mission: win at all costs. Now, after going 3-1, including 2 wins against hosts #15 Maryland, Jim Penders and his team are playing next weekend.

The Huskies kicked off the weekend against #2 seed Wake Forest (and RPI #6 in the country). They were tasked with slowing down the powerful bats of the Demon Deacons who hit the 4th most HRs this season with 122. UConn ace Austin Peterson through 6 strong innings, allowing just 2 runs and striking out 11. The Husky offense beat up ACC Pitcher of the Year Rhett Lowder for 7 runs and 11 hits in 6.1 innings and looked to be on their way to an easy W. Unfortunately, nothing is easy in the postseason. The UConn bullpen struggled, as Devin Kirby allowed 4 runs and Wake tied the game at 7 in the 8th inning. Thanks to a Ben Huber RBI double and a shutdown bottom of the 9th from closer Justin Willis, the Huskies pulled out a huge 8-7 victory, keeping them in the winners bracket.

Following the Maryland spanking of LIU in their first game 23-2, it was a matchup against the hosts for UConn. While Wake Forest was #4 in the country in HRs, Maryland was #2, only behind the #1 overall team in the country Tennessee. UConn was tasked with holding down an offense that scores in bunches in their small home park. The Huskies got a tremendous start from their #2 starter Pat Gallagher, a 7 inning, 2 run, 6 K performance, shutting down the Terrapin offense. It was a 2-2 game in the bottom of the 7th when UConn added 3 runs thanks to a Matt Donlan 3-run bomb. The Huskies added 4 insurance runs in the 8th to hit double digits, which turned out to be useful as Maryland mounted a 3-run 9th, but fell short as UConn won 10-5. The 2nd straight win sent Maryland to an elimination game and put UConn in the driver’s seat to win the regional.

Thanks to their 2-0 record, UConn had to be beaten twice in order to be eliminated from the regional. After Maryland dispatched Wake Forest in the afternoon elimination game, the Sunday night pressure was on the hosts. The rematch between the Terrapins and Huskies was an epic battle. Maryland came out of the gates hot with a HR and 3 runs in the first. They added a 4th run in the 5th and seemed to be asserting themselves. Then came a huge 4-run 6th for the Huskies, tying the game. Maryland plated 2 in the 7th and UConn once again countered with 2 in the 8th. The game was hanging on every pitch and despite opportunities for both teams, the game dragged into extra innings. With pitching limited Maryland was able to string together some baserunners and ultimately win on a walkoff in the bottom of the 11th inning. The hosts had life and it all came down to one game with the winner going to the Super Regionals.

Monday night started with a bang for Maryland as they scored one on a big HR in the top half of the 1st. The bottom half however, could not have been much better for the Huskies. A depleted Maryland pitching staff started Andrew Johnson, who did not allow a hit in 2/3 of an inning, but walked 4 and ultimately was charged with 4 runs. His replacement, Sean Heine, allowed the first hit of the game for the Huskies and one of the biggest hits of the season, a Matt Donlan grand slam. The Huskies walked away with 6 runs on 1 hit, and were on their way. UConn added 1 in the 3rd and 2 in the 4th to go up 9-1, but with this prolific Maryland offense, you just felt that wasn’t enough. After allowing 4 in the top of the 5th thanks to some shaky Husky defense, they added one more in the bottom half to bring the lead to 5, 10-5. After adding 2 in the 7th and 1 in the 8th, Maryland was only down 2 with 3 outs remaining. UConn was the beneficiary of a correct, but rarely called runner interference call in the top of the 8th that wiped a run off the board and kept the game at 10-8. Closer Justin Willis got a huge groundball out to end the inning after the call and that halted Maryland’s comeback attempt. Maryland fans will be talking about that call for years and rightfully so. After UConn added another insurance run in the bottom of the 8th, closer Justin Willis absolutely dominated the Terrapins, striking out the side to send the Huskies to the Super Regional.

The weekend was a phenomenal display of what UConn Huskies baseball represents. The pitching staff was tough and gritty against incredibly impressive and powerful offensive opponents and the lineup hit top to bottom. An asset for this team, the starters shined for the most part and showed off their depth in 4 games, something that separates good teams from great ones. The Huskies offense grinds at-bats and despite not having the overall power of a Wake or Maryland, have guys who work counts and get big hits when they need them. The lineup produced 1-9 throughout this weekend with guys like SS Bryan Padilla stepping up and driving balls all over the field and even 9-hole hitter Zach Bushling coming through with clutch hits and RBIs. The lineup puts pressure on opposing pitchers to make good pitches and jumps all over mistakes. They are not to be overlooked.

The program Jim Penders has built at UConn is nothing short of remarkable. To take a school in the Northeast and make them a perennial NCAA Regional contender against all odds is something to admire. UConn is now in a position to continue proving people wrong and upsetting opponents next weekend and perhaps beyond. Let’s go Huskies!

42 Wins and Counting: UConn Baseball is Poised for a College World Series Run Behind Coach Jim Penders

Year after year, Coach Jim Penders has been defying the odds and making the oft-ignored UConn Baseball program a constant threat in the landscape of NCAA College Baseball. If you haven’t heard that UConn Baseball is having another impressive season and is on pace to come close to their highest win total in program history, then now you know. The #16 team in the nation, the Huskies have been mowing down opponents and sit with a 42-10 record with just 4 games remaining in the regular season. They have clinched the Big East Regular Season Championship and given all the odds stacked against the UConn program, the sustained success is something to be admired. Take a few minutes and learn about the success of the UConn Baseball program.

Penders is a husky through and through. He made his first appearance for the Huskies as a player in 1991 when he was on the varsity team. He was the co-captain his senior year in 1994 and led the Huskies to a 26-19 record, a Big East Tournament title, and an appearance in the NCAA Regionals. That season Penders hit .354 with 7 HRs and 46 RBIs, but thankfully for the UConn Baseball program, his connection to the team was not ending with graduation. In 1997, Penders became a graduate assistant and then was named a full assistant coach in 1999. When long-time coach Andy Baylock left the program in 2003, Penders took the reigns and hasn’t looked back. In his 3rd decade associated with the program and his 19th season as head coach of the Huskies, the impact Penders has had on the hundreds of players at UConn is amazing. While getting players drafted isn’t his only goals, Penders has had 21 players make a AA or higher roster and 10 players make an MLB roster in his tenure and since 2004, 58 Huskies have earned signing bonuses. Not bad for a New England baseball program.

Penders is the son of another coach in the CT area. His dad, Jim Penders Sr, helped UConn reach the College World Series as a player in 1965 and was the baseball coach for East Catholic High School in Manchester, CT (my hometown) from 1969-2012 and won four state titles in his amazing tenure. As if that wasn’t enough, his grandfather, Jim, was the head baseball coach at Stratford High School in CT from 1931-1968 and also won four state titles. On top of that, his brother Tom and uncle Rob are/were also baseball coaches, Tom with several universities including URI. While a parent’s profession doesn’t always dictate a career path for a child, its hardly a surprise that Penders followed in his family’s footsteps.

Overall, Penders is 646-424-5 in his head coaching career all at UConn. He is a 5-time conference coach of the year (4 in the Big East and 1 in the American) and has taken teams to the NCAA Regionals 7 times in 17 eligible seasons (one canceled due to COVID) and a Regional appearance is looking likely this season. Since 2010, UConn has missed the Regionals just 4 times, and Penders has even taken UConn one-step from the College World Series, losing in the NCAA Super Regional in 2011 to the eventual National Champion South Carolina Gamecocks (a team with current Red Sox player Jackie Bradley Jr in the outfield). The accomplishments are impressive on their own, but when you factor in the challenges stacked against UConn, it’s down right miraculous.

As a New England school, the most obvious disadvantage for Penders and UConn is weather. With the season beginning in February, some years it can be impossible to have any outside training because the fields are frozen or covered in snow. UConn has to play the vast majority of the first month of the season on neutral or away fields in warmer climates. The amount of travel early in the season is taxing and it’s certainly a disadvantage to not play at home for weeks on end. The weather both impacts the current roster and impacts recruiting. If you’re a baseball player looking at a prospective college and you know on day 1 that you need to spend the first month+ of the season on the road, it doesn’t help. Another disadvantage for success is actually the Big East Conference. The return to the Big East was met with cheers of joy for every sport at UConn except the baseball program. The level of teams in the Big East is frankly, not great. That greatly impacts their strength of schedule and any loss to a conference opponent is a big mark on their resume.

Despite those challenges, Penders continues to bring in quality people and players and has seen a number of former players reach the majors. With the exception of 2014, Penders has led his squad to 30+ wins in every season since 2009 (except the shortened COVID year) and with his 42nd win this year, he’s now reached that plateau three times in his career. The constant success has not change Penders one bit, with his calm demeanor and unassuming presence.


If you haven’t had the privilege of watching this season’s UConn Baseball team, you’re missing out. As with teams of the past 10+ years, they are fun to watch and play fundamental baseball. It can be tricky to find the game streams, but if all holds as expected, UConn will have some very high-profile games coming up in the NCAA Regionals and potentially beyond. This team certainly has the potential to be the 2nd team in Penders’ tenure to reach the Super Regionals, but there is a lot of work left to do.

As with many of the recent rosters for UConn, they are full of pitching talent. As of May 15th, their three primary starting pitchers, Austin Peterson, Enzo Stefanoni, and Pat Gallagher all had 13 starts and ERAs under 3. Peterson has been electric and has 112 Ks in 88.1 innings, which Gallagher has 84 Ks in 77.1 innings. Justin Willis has emerged as a reliable closer for the Huskies, when the games are even that close, securing 13 saves while striking out 34 in 18.1 innings. A shoutout to Jack Sullivan, who has appeared in 16 games for the Huskies over 18.1 innings and has a 0.49 ERA. As a pitching staff, they have a 3.14 ERA, 18 saves, and 507 Ks in 467 innings while holding opponents to a .242 average.

Not to be outdone, UConn’s offense has had it’s share of impressive performances. As with most UConn teams, there is some balanced-power, with solid averages. Erik Stock is having another nice season for the Huskies with a .400 average, 9 HRs and 49 RBIs in 210 at-bats. He’s joined by Ben Huber, Casey Dana, and Matt Donlan with 9+ HRs and as a team, they are hitting .300 on the season. They are helped on the base path by David Smith, who has 19 stolen bases on the season in 22 tries and with a .286 average, he’s getting on base with regularity for the Huskies. Overall their offense is very solid, if not amazing, but when you hit .300 and your pitching staff is only allowing opponents to hit .242, good things tend to happen.

What makes all of this even more impressive is who is missing on the roster. Reggie Crawford, pitcher and first baseman for UConn, was the #4 overall prospect heading into the fall when he was sidelined and forced to miss the entire 2022 season thanks to an arm injury that led to Tommy John surgery. Just imagine what this team would look like with one of their best overall talents.

I, for one, will be following and cheering hard for this great group of kids and coaches. They have had a tremendous year thus far and look to close out their final four regular season games on the road (1 at Bryant and 3 at Georgetown) on route to another Regional appearance. Let’s go Huskies!

Diaco Donates

Our UConn football family is very fortunate to call The Burton Family Football Complex and Mark R. Shenkman Training Center our home. These facilities are among the finest in the nation and fully serve the needs of our football student-athletes. I want all Husky student-athletes and my fellow coaches to be able to enjoy the same caliber of facilities, which they richly deserve.

UConn Football Coach Bob Diaco on his $250,000 gift to help with the construction of facilities for UConn’s men’s and women’s soccer program, baseball program and softball program.

Yellow Jackets Stung By Big 2nd Inning

Stephen Slade / Courtesy of UConn

Georgia Tech starter Zac Ryan’s day started off well with a quick first inning (line out, single, pop out, caught stealing). It looked like he was on his way to a solid outing against the UConn Huskies, then the 2nd inning happened. It started with a Joe DeRoche-Duffin single and opened up from there until the Huskies had knocked Ryan out of the game after just 1.2 innings and hung a 7-spot on the scoreboard.

The Huskies looked strong behind freshman starter Tim Cate and held the 7-run lead until the 6th inning, then things tightened up inning by inning. Georgia Tech scored 1 run in the 6th and 7th and then 2 in the 8th to shrink the UConn lead to 3 runs. Thankfully, UConn’s closer Patrick Ruotolo finally closed the door after allowing 2 more runs to shrink the lead to just 1 run. The Huskies and Coach Jim Penders walked away with the program’s first NCAA Regional win since 2013 and 7th overall.

With Georgia Tech in the rear-view mirror, UConn moves on to the winner’s bracket and a Saturday evening (6pm) matchup with #1 Florida, the regional host. On the mound for Florida will likely be junior lefty AJ Puk. Puk is projected as a top 5 pick in the upcoming MLB Draft (potentially #1 to the Phillies) and his 6-7, 230 lb frame and 95+ mph fastball (touching 99 at times) are intimidating. Puk had a very good year for Florida with 90 Ks and a 2.88 era.

UConn will counter with their lefty ace, junior Anthony Kay. Kay has had a nice year for the Huskies finishing with a 9-2 record, 2.46 era and 108 Ks. He pitched well in the AAC Tournament, winning MVP after a nice outing in the final against Houston on short rest. Kay didn’t pitch in game one of the NCAA Regional to get an extra day rest, so he should be rearing to go on Saturday night.

This is an incredibly tough game for the Huskies, but they have their best pitcher on the mound. Anything can happen.

Let the NCAA Tournament Begin

Stephen Slade / Courtesy of UConn 

Friday is a special day for Coach Jim Penders and his UConn baseball
squad. After tearing through the AAC Tournament, the Huskies find themselves
making their 4th NCAA appearance since 2010 when they face-off
against #2 Georgia Tech at 1pm in the first game of the Gainsville, FL regional. UConn
is the #3 seed in the region along with host #1 Florida and #4 Bethune-Cookman.

The tournament will be an extremely difficult test for the
Huskies who finished the season with a 35-25 record. The double-elimination format
will guarantee at least two games, but it’s hard to see a real path for UConn to
win the regional, especially with Florida looming. Florida finished the season
with a 47-13 record and have one of the best pitchers in the country in Logan
Shore. Shore finished the season with an amazing stat line in 15 starts: 10-0, 2.41
era, 76 Ks and 13 BBs. He won SEC Player of the Year and is a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award, the national player of the year.

UConn has a strong #1 starter in Anthony Kay, who won the
AAC Tournament MVP after winning his two starts, including the championship
game on short rest. He is expected to be a fairly high draft pick this year,
but will not pitch in the opening game in order to give him an extra day’s rest.

If nothing else, it will be fun to watch UConn play against
top-level competition.