For all of the Huskies’ success on the baseball diamond in recent years – including winning 30 or more games in six of the past seven seasons – there have been no championship trophies to display. But that changed on Senior Day this past weekend, when the Huskies raised a championship trophy before a crowd of family members and baseball alumni at J.O. Christian Field, after beating Louisville 7-5 to win the 2011 Big East Regular Season Championship.
Senior pitcher Greg Nappo earned his eighth win of the year, and junior George Springer became the Huskies’ all-time leading home run hitter during the game after he smashed his 11th home run of the season – the 45th of his career – over the left field fence with one on bottom of the fourth inning.
The Huskies lost the second game of the doubleheader in 10 innings, to improve their record to 36-14-1 and 20-4 in conference play. The regular season title earned UConn the top seed in the Big East Conference Tournament May 25-29 in Clearwater, Fla.
“It’s a 26-year old primate off our backs,” head coach Jim Penders said following the game, which saw the Huskies get off to a sluggish start, including committing four errors. “I’ve got to give the kids a lot of credit for battling [on] after the errors and mistakes. It’s one thing crossed of the list. It’s the first championship that we could win, and we accomplished that goal. We’ve got another chance to win a championship in the Big East tournament. We’ve got to keep winning games to have a chance to win an NCAA regional championship.”
Nappo, who threw seven innings before getting relief help from Will Jolin and Kevin Vance, had three strikeouts and gave up two earned runs on six hits.
“We made pitches when we had to,” he said. “We expected to win today. We didn’t want any let downs. We just competed. We battled. We’ve got to thank all the alumni for coming out today to support us.”
Redshirt senior Doug Elliot said, “It’s nice to finally get one. We’ve got a few more things to do [this year], but it’s nice to get the first one. We came out slow today, but we had to remember what we were playing for. It’s a nice feeling right now.”
Penders said he had a sleepless night on Friday, thinking about the possibility of winning a Big East title for the first time and about the bond among those who wore the Huskies baseball uniform over the years, including Elliot’s father, Doug Sr., and his own father, Jim Sr., who both were in the stands on Saturday for the game.
“I was nervous. I had the worst night’s sleep in my life,” he said. “It’s all about teammates and the guys who came before us – Dave Ford ’85, Jim Sarantides ’86, Jack Hurley ’87, Sal Tinnerello ’92, Craig McDonald ’92, Brian Packi ’00, and all the guys that contributed so much that didn’t have the opportunity to do it. [This title] is for them too.”
The Huskies will complete the regular season on the road playing non-conference games at Rhode Island today and at Northeastern tomorrow, before the final conference games at Cincinnati at the end of the week.