UConn’s 11-game win streak ended Saturday in the semifinal round of the American Athletic Conference baseball championship but, given a second chance in the double elimination tournament, the Huskies bounced back with a 5-0 victory over Memphis to advance to the championship game.
UConn, the No. 3 seed, will meet fifth-seeded Houston for the AAC’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The championship game (Sunday, noon) in Clearwater, Fla., will be broadcast on ESPNews (WHUS.org, 91.7 FM). The Cougars eliminated top-seeded Tulane with a 6-2 victory in the first game Saturday.
The Huskies (36-23) fell to Memphis 9-5 in their first game Saturday, losing for the first time since a May 8 setback to East Carolina. But behind the dominant pitching of sophomore right-hander Wills Montgomerie, UConn moved within one victory of its first NCAA bid since 2013 with the shutout in the elimination game.
Montgomerie struck out six and allowed just three hits in a career-best seven innings. He picked up his sixth win of the year. Junior closer Patrick Ruotolo pitched two scoreless innings for his 10th save of the year and moved into sole possession of fifth place on UConn’s all-time saves list.
UConn head coach Jim Penders, leading the Huskies to their fifth conference title game in his 13 seasons, had a tough decision to make after the loss. In selecting Montgomerie he was able to save left-hander Anthony Kay for Sunday’s title game.
Kay (8-2), the AAC Pitcher of the Year, struck out six in a complete game 6-2 victory over Memphis Wednesday in UConn’s tournament victory.
Kay will likely square off against Houston ace Seth Romero who pitched 6.2 innings in a 5-3 victory over 11th-ranked Tulane on Thursday. Romero pitched 6 innings in a 4-1 loss to UConn on April 16. The Huskies swept Houston in that three-game series in Storrs. Kay pitched 8.1 innings in a 3-2 UConn victory on April 15.
The Huskies put their entire game together in the win Saturday. In addition to the outstanding pitching, eight of the nine players in the lineup had one hit. Junior second baseman Aaron Hill hit his first home run of the season to spark a 3-run eighth inning. First baseman Tyler Gnesda was 1-for-4 and drove in two runs. And center fielder Jack Sundberg led the defensive effort with a spectacular catch while crashing into the fence.
Check out the highlights and an interview with Penders here.
Penders also had to deal three players who broke team rules. Bobby Melley, UConn’s No. 3 hitter, and relievers Devin Over and Jack Riley sat out the game.
It all leads up to a dramatic finale against the Cougars. The stakes are kind of high. The winner moves on to NCAA. The loser will likely see its season end.
UConn won three Big East titles but this would be the first AAC championship in three years of the league. UConn is 26-15 under Penders in conference tournament games.