STORRS – Another game came down to the last pitch, the last swing. UConn, down a run, had the bases loaded and its best hitter, Bobby Melley, at bat.
Melley got his pitch and took a good swing, but in a game of inches, it was a few inches off. The grounder to shortstop was turned into a game-ending double play. The Huskies lost to Central Florida 7-6 in the regular-season finale, settling for two out of three in the series.
"First things first, it's possible," said Melley, a sophomore who leads the American Athletic Conference with a .360 average and has 45 RBI in 54 games. "We've been in games with every single team we've played. We haven't won a ton of them, but we know that we can compete, that's all we really need. Knowing we can compete and knowing we have a shot to win a ballgame."
The Huskies (26-29, 9-14 AAC) now hit the re-set button — and their most recent history shows they can be dangerous when they do that. They are seeded No. 7 and face No. 2 Central Florida Wednesday at 11 a.m. in the first AAC tournament. In the pool-play format, the Huskies meet No. 3 Houston Thursday and No. 6 Temple Saturday, the survivor of Pool B to play for the championship at noon Sunday. No. 1 seed Louisville is in Pool A.
"We know as a team, from coaches to players, we know we can beat anybody on any given day," said Tom Verdi, captain and shortstop. "Anyone in the country, I truly believe that. You get hot one week, you play your best baseball, we saw it last year."
UConn went into its last Big East tournament as the No. 8 seed, but turned around a frustrating season by taking two of three in the last regular-season series at George Mason, losing the last game on the last swing. Once the Huskies got to Clearwater, they knocked off top-seeded Louisville in extra innings and went on to win the championship.
This season, the Huskies have lost one frustrating game after another, going way back to three consecutive extra-inning games to Florida at Gainesville in February.
The Huskies were in danger of missing the eight-team tournament altogether but clinched a spot Friday by sweeping a doubleheader against UCF, which was battling for the title. And now they face UCF again.
"I know the most dangerous man in the fight is the one with nothing to lose," coach Jim Penders said. "And we have nothing to lose. So we're trying to plant a good seed for growth, as coach [Kevin] Ollie would say, in Clearwater. You don't feel quite as good knowing you've got a losing record. But it doesn't matter – it's a new season. I do like our mindset. It's amazing how fast it can change."
UConn was swept at Louisville, though senior Anthony Marzi turned in an impressive start against the regular-season champs. The Huskies were also swept at home by Houston, with two games getting away in the late innings. They lost a 14-inning game to Temple, which made the difference in that series, and a 2-1 game at South Florida that kept them from winning that series.
The Huskies' offense has picked up, with No. 3 hitter Blake Davey and Melley, in the cleanup spot, providing much of the pop. Melley, 6 feet 3, 230, needed time to adjust to college ball, but caught on late last season and made the All-Regional team after the Huskies were eliminated by Virginia Tech. This year, he produced from the start.
"He has been our rock, him and Blake," Verdi said. "Bobby, with his average and his numbers, he has been so consistent, it has been something to watch. I learn from him, I learn from his ABs, from his body language, everything about it. He's been so consistent throughout the season. He's been carrying it though the entire season. He's kept us in games."
Melley had three hits in the season finale against UCF, finishing with 72 hits, 21 extra-base hits, and an on-base percentage of .478.
UConn hit .270 as a team and outscored opponents 274-225. Catcher Max McDowell hit .277 with 33 RBI. Its staff ERA of 3.11 has kept it in every game. Marzi (5-6, 2.81), who defeated Notre Dame on two days rest in the Big East final last year, could start two games in Clearwater, though he is fighting an illness. Senior Brian Ward (4-2, 2.87), who threw a complete game shutout to beat Rhode Island on May 13, and sophomore Jordan Tabakman (3-4, 3.39) are also available to start. Freshman Anthony Kay (2.79) and Andrew Zapata (3.69) have been effective as starters and relievers. Lefty David Mahoney and righties Max Slade, Devin Over and Patrick Ruotolo work key bullpen roles by committee.Copyright © 2015, CT Now