By PAT EATON-ROBB AP Sports Writer
STORRS, Conn. (AP) — They call themselves Last Chance UConn, an unlikely New England team filled with transfers who are reveling in their role as underdogs headed into this weekend’s super regional at Stanford.
The Huskies (49-14) are the first team from the Northeast to make it this far in an NCAA baseball tournament since Boston College in 2016. And they are doing it with a dozen players who came out of the transfer portal.
That’s how the Last Chance nickname was born, said senior Erik Stock, who came to UConn from Old Dominion in 2020.
“We have that chip on our shoulder,” said Stock, who is batting .366 with 10 home runs. “The past schools that we were at and we left, either they didn’t want us or we wanted to go somewhere a little bit better. It’s really just a grind just trying to go out there every single day and try to show people exactly what they missed out on.”
The Huskies have already set a school record for victories, earning their 49th when they upset Maryland to win the College Park Regional. Another win would make them the first Division I school from New England to win 50 games in a season.
That’s quite an accomplishment for a program predicted to falter when the school transitioned in 2020 from the baseball-rich American Athletic Conference back to the Big East.
“We’ve hurt the American by leaving, more than we’ve been hurt by the Big East,” coach Jim Penders said. “When we got to the American, the neighborhood was nicer than our house and we had to fix up our house. By going to the Big East, OK we’ve got a pretty nice house and we hope the neighborhood comes along with us.”
But it is not as though UConn came from nowhere.
The Huskies were a baseball power several decades ago, going to five College World Series between 1957 and 1979. Penders’ father and his uncle, famed basketball coach Tom Penders, played together on one of those teams in 1965.
The younger Penders, in his 19th season at UConn, brought the school back to the national stage. He has guided the Huskies to seven NCAA Tournaments, including their first super regional in 2011 when they were led by future major leaguers George Springer and Matt Barnes.
This year’s team also includes pro prospects, such as Stock, who is both an outfielder and pitcher, staff ace Austin Peterson (11-2), a transfer from Purdue, Casey Dana, the team leader in home runs with 12, a transfer from Seton Hall and several others.
“All those guys could have come in and thought, well I’ve got to get mine and I’m going to think about me and and I’m going to think about the draft,” Penders said. “And it wound up being the exact opposite. They found something here. And a rising tide raises all ships and winning is the best developer.”
Peterson said the team has come to reflect the Northeast — gritty and resilient. By going out in February and practicing in sub-freezing conditions, they’ve turned what most would perceive as a regional disadvantage for baseball on its head, he said.
“That’s a big thing. We’re mentally tough and we’re not even close to done yet,” he said. “I think every guy on this team has a chip on their shoulder, because we’ve kind of been told we’re not good enough at many points this year. To be able to prove people wrong, that’s something that everyone on this team wants to do.”