The UConn baseball team has been calling themselves the “Dead Men Walking” lately, and you have to admit, that’s pretty fitting.
Despite having one the most traditionally dominant programs in the northeast, this was a year of minimal expectations for UConn. There are well-known names around the Big East like Mazzilli and Ferriter, but a reliance on underclassmen made people think it was going to be a quiet year for the Huskies.
Entering a final regular season series against George Mason, UConn was 28-25. When they took two out of three, it made the No. 8 seed in the Big East believe just a bit that they could do something special.
Then the Big East Tournament happened.
Over the course of four games in four days, the Huskies captured the hearts of UConn fans everywhere, as they defeated Louisville, South Florida, Rutgers, and Notre Dame. They used a combination of grit, toughness, and a few friendly bounces, to clinch the Big East championship for the first time since 1994.
With the success in Clearwater, Fla., UConn earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament, which 14 days ago seemed like a ridiculous dream to even the most passionate UConn fan.
Fast forward to Friday. UConn’s season should have been over for more than a week, yet Tom Verdi is standing in the batter’s box at English Field in Blacksburg, Va. looking to get UConn off to a hot start in the NCAA Tournament.
Three hours later, the entire UConn team congregated at the pitcher’s mound, exchanged high-fives and pats on the back. The Huskies, the No. 4 seed in Blacksburg, one of the lowest seeds in the tournament overall, just knocked off the No. 16 team in the nation, the No. 1 team in the Blacksburg Region, Virginia Tech.
What is going on? This defies even the logic of the baseball gods.
Simply put, the UConn baseball team knows that it is playing with house money, and they’re enjoying every second of it.
When speaking to UConn coach Jim Penders on Friday, the ESPN commentators could not help but point out that at such a crucial point in the season, Penders’ players were relaxed and simply playing for fun. Penders echoed the “house money” mentality, knowing that his team was not supposed to be where it is, but taking life a day at a time right now.
Teams like that are fun to watch. Watching Virginia Tech, a No. 1 seed, on Friday, I couldn’t help but notice that they were incapable of enjoying the moment — they were playing tight. Meanwhile, UConn looked loose; they had an extra step in their stride. It was easy to see that this was a team with nothing to lose, the most dangerous type of team to play.
It is still quite unlikely that UConn competes for the national championship, and the path to the College World Series in Omaha would likely take them through LSU in Baton Rouge. However, based on the way this team is playing, there is no telling just how far they can go.
After all, the phrase “shock the world” is one that brings friendly memories into the minds of fans across UConn country.