Thoughts and pictures of my local minor league baseball team the New York Penn League Connecticut Tigers; a Detriot farm team. We'll still be looking at former Navigators/Defenders players along the way....

Saturday, June 11, 2011

GO Huskies!

From today's Hartford Courant:

"COLUMBIA, S.C. — The Huskies arrived at South Carolina's $35 million college baseball palace two wins away from the sport's ultimate destination.

Still, to some they are strangers in paradise.

"Our fans are the same way," George Springer said, when asked if he was "envious" of the lavish facility and the support it suggests for baseball at South Carolina, "but when it's 40 degrees and the wind is blowing and you have to get bundled up for two hours, it's not as much fun for them to watch."

The Huskies, accustomed to playing in front of shivering crowds of perhaps 100 fans at J.O. Christian Field, take their talents to Carolina Baseball Stadium, where there could be as many as 10,000 on hand Saturday night at 6 p.m. for Game 1 of the NCAA super regional against the defending champion South Carolina Gamecocks. The winner of this best-of-three series moves on to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., where no New England school has competed since 1986.

In another battle of aces, Matt Barnes (11-4, 1.62 ERA) will pitch for the Huskies against South Carolina's Michael Roth (12-3. 1.10).

"There are a lot of great players from up where we are," said UConn's LJ Mazzilli, who grew up in Greenwich, "and I think we've shown that if we're all pulling in the same direction, it doesn't matter what stage you put in front of us, we can overcome it."

The Huskies bring the can-do attitude into this series after fighting their way out of the losers bracket to win the Clemson Regional last week, a task that included four wins in three days, the last two over the host school.

"That was a pretty strong statement, right there," said South Carolina coach Ray Tanner. "Arguably, Clemson was the best team in the country the last few weeks. Connecticut was expected to be where they are. They're not just a team that 'got hot at the right time.' They were prognosticated to be one of the teams playing at the end."

Wherever the Huskies go, they are still peppered with questions about the weather back home. To come from a cold-weather climate and advance this deep into the Division I tournament has always seemed impossible — especially to fans from long-dominant warm-weather programs like South Carolina.

"We've shown that we have a lot of mental toughness," UConn coach Jim Penders said.

The challenge, though, ratchets up still higher this week. The Gamecocks, as defending champions, know how to win and most of their players have been this far more than once — this is their coach's ninth super regional in 12 years. Roth, a lefthander who was chosen in the 31st round by the Indians, won April pitching duels against Sonny Gray of Vanderbilt and Alex Meyer of Kentucky, both first-round picks like Barnes.

"I just got to be who I am," said Roth, echoing one of his coach's mantras. Tanner said he does not involve his players too deeply in scouting reports, but just coaches them to do the things they do best. One of those things is holding runners, so UConn probably won't be stealing as many bases as it did last weekend.

Barnes, a first-round pick (19th overall) by the Red Sox, will try to rebound from his worst start of the year, a 13-1 loss to Coastal Carolina to open the Clemson Regional.

"I'm just going to go out and do what I've done all year, go out and try to give us a quality start," Barnes said. "We all understand they have a phenomenal team here."

The Gamecocks (48-14), who beat Stetson to win their regional, are hitting .296 as a team, with 44 home runs, outscoring opponents, 384-199. Their strength is pitching, with Roth and closer Matt Price (63 strikeouts in 48 innings). South Carolina's staff ERA is 2.65.

Springer, picked 11th overall by Houston, has been going easy since tweaking his hamstring rounding second base Monday night, but he practiced with the team on Friday and seemed to be moving fine. The Huskies (45-18-1) have a .311 batting average with 34 homers, outscoring opponents, 421-248, and a team ERA of 3.03.

"I know it sounds like coach-speak," Tanner said, "but Connecticut is really good, and we're going to have to play our best to win.""


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