UConn reached college baseball’s rarified air, took a deep breath, then pounded Stanford pitching in the first game of the NCAA Super Regional in Palo Alto, Calif., Saturday night.
And after surviving Stanford’s responding onslaught, hanging on for their 13-12 victory, the Huskies are one win away from reaching the College World Series. They can get it Sunday night in Game 2 of the best-of-three series.
UConn last made the CWS in 1979.
The Huskies pounded out 17 hits, 10 for extra bases to initially take the air out of Stanford, a perennial championship contender, in its iconic home stadium, the Sunken Diamond. Matt Donlan, from Guilford, and Korey Morton, from Norwalk, hit two-run homers in the second inning, when the Huskies scored eight runs. Morton had a double to lead off the inning, UConn sending 12 batters to the plate.
The Huskies led 9-0 in the second inning, 13-4 in the seventh and 13-6 going to the bottom of the ninth, but Stanford hit eight home runs, three by Brock Jones, expected to be a first-round pick in the upcoming MLB draft, two by Drew Bowser, and four of them in the ninth inning. The Cardinal had the potential winning run at the plate before Justin Willis got the final out, striking out Adam Crampton as the UConn dugout breathed a sigh of relief.
Pat Gallagher (11-3) pitched into the seventh inning, allowing three of the home runs, but holding on to the big lead his teammates provided. Coach Jim Penders’ decision to flip his top starters gives UConn the chance to go for the clincher Sunday night with their ace, Austin Peterson (11-2, 3.30 ERA), but Stanford, which came from behind to win its Regional, showed no lead is safe in Palo Alto.
The Huskies (50-14) did just about everything else right, spraying line drives into the outfield gaps all night and playing steady defense, throwing two Stanford runners out on the bases.
This was UConn’s first ever victory in a Super Regional game, and is the closest the program has come to reaching the College World Series under the current, 64-team NCAA format. In UConn’s only other Super Regional appearance, the Huskies were swept at South Carolina in 2011.
Here UConn, which began the tournament as a No. 3 seed at the Maryland Regional, shocked No. 2 overall seed in the field of 64, driving Stanford’s best pitcher, Alex Williams, out of the game in the second inning, taking a 9 -0 leads.
Ben Huber doubled home a run in the first inning. In UConn’s second at bat, Morton and TC Simmons doubled, then Donlan homered, his third of the NCAA Tournament, to make it 4-0. Casey Dana doubled to drive in two more, then Bryan Padilla doubled in another run and Morton, a freshman hitting .414, homered to complete the eight-run rally against reliever Max Meier.
Stanford (45-16) responded quickly. Bowser and Jones hit two-run homers off Gallagher in the second inning. Gallagher, who struck out eight, shut Stanford out until Jones hit a solo homer in the seventh.
The Huskies continued tackling on runs. Simmons tripled home a run, UConn’s eighth extra-base hit, and scored on Donlan’s single to make it 11-4, knocking out Meier in the fourth. They added two more in the seventh, when David Smith doubled home a run and scored on Erik Stock’s single.
Relievers Garrett Coe pitched 1 2/3 innings, Devin Kirby and Justin Willis all gave up home runs, Willis allowing three, but got the final 11 outs.
Dom Amore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org