Big East

UConn Defeats Xavier To Win BIG EAST Baseball Championship

UConn Defeats Xavier To Win BIG EAST Baseball Championship

Top-seeded UConn clinched its second straight BIG EAST Championship crown, and fourth straight trip to the NCAA Tournament, with a 7-2 win over Xavier.

May 30, 2022 by Briar Napier
UConn Defeats Xavier To Win BIG EAST Baseball Championship

Any BIG EAST baseball title on the line this season seemed to be UConn's, until someone else said otherwise.

Though many tried in the regular season and throughout the BIG EAST Baseball Championship this weekend, no one was able to pull it off successfully.

Dominant for much of the season, UConn will return to the NCAA Tournament after beating Xavier in Sunday's championship round - in the Musketeers' own backyard at Prasco Park in suburban Cincinnati - to finish off an emphatic, mostly-cozy weekend for coach Jim Penders' men.

Nationally ranked for much of the season, the Huskies now have an opportunity to prove themselves against the very best in America. With five College World Series appearances in its history, though none since 1979, it may also be UConn's best chance in decades to make history.

Here's a look at what went down Sunday in the final round of the BIG EAST Baseball Championship, with looks ahead at what could be next for both UConn and other teams across the league:

Huskies Reign, Retain BIG EAST Crown

The biggest storyline heading into the tournament was if UConn's armor had been dented recently to the point where it no longer could be considered the outright favorite. After all, Georgetown's sweep of the Huskies in the final weekend of the regular season knocked them out of the Top 25 and nearly cost them the league's top spot they had held for nearly the entire year. 

But, after beating all three BIG EAST Championship teams in consecutive games - and relatively comfortably, too - it turns out UConn was the undisputed cream of the crop all along. 

The Huskies clinched their second straight BIG EAST Championship crown, and fourth straight trip to the NCAA Tournament, with a 7-2 win over Xavier on Sunday. UConn's stellar rotation allowed just three runs in three games, as it held back a Musketeers lineup that scored an astounding 43 runs the day before. 

Enzo Stefanoni, Garrett Coe and Devin Kirby combined on the mound to hold XU to just two runs on eight hits in the clincher, while five UConn runs in the first two innings set the tone for the afternoon and ensured that the championship series wouldn't be going to a winner-take-all second game. 

Now sitting at 46-13 overall, only No. 1-ranked Tennessee has more wins to its name nationally than UConn. 

With NCAA Tournament play now guaranteed, it remains to be seen how the Huskies will directly compare on the field against the elite teams of college baseball.

Xavier's Franzoni Finishes Run For The Ages

It's a rare case when the BIG EAST Championship Most Outstanding Player award goes to a member of a losing team - and likely even more rare that there's probably no argument to be made about it. 

But, after Xavier first baseman Luke Franzoni finished this weekend with the greatest individual tournament ever seen in the league's history, giving the Jack Keiser Most Outstanding Player award to the BIG EAST Co-Player of the Year was an easy decision. 

Franzoni's performances throughout the weekend were stunning. He finished with a record-breaking five home runs and 16 RBIs in just four games, and his outbursts were a major reason the Musketeers made it to Sunday in the first place. 

A three-home run, 11 RBI-game (in which he hit two grand slams, no less) while facing elimination in Xavier's demolition of Creighton on Saturday night, probably was the point Franzoni clinched the award anyway, but the New Jerseyite punctuated the point against UConn by slamming a two-run homer - his 29th of the season - in the fourth inning to give Xavier its only mark on the scoresheet. 

Xavier's RPI of 61 as of Sunday afternoon likely is too low for an at-large bid, meaning Sunday probably was XU's only shot for a trip to the NCAA Tournament and that one of the nation's most-feared power hitters almost certainly will have to watch the regional round from home.

Where Will UConn Go Next?

UConn baseball nabbing a spot in the NCAA Regionals is beginning to feel routine at this point, with the Huskies now having qualified for every NCAA Tournament held since 2018 and five times out of a possible six (excluding the canceled 2020 version) since 2016. 

However, getting past that point has been the problem. 

Under the tournament's current format, UConn has made it out of the regional round once (2011) and is 7-8 in its last five appearances there, bowing out unceremoniously from last year's South Bend Regional after back-to-back defeats to Notre Dame (in a 26-3 loss, no less) and Central Michigan. 

However, the trump card for the Huskies this year is that they have more wins this season than any of its recent campaigns, with their 46 victories being the second-most in school history and most since a 45-win season in, coincidentally, 2011. 

Perhaps the Georgetown series right before the postseason was a wakeup call, and with demons now pushed aside, the Huskies finally could manage to prove on a national stage why they were ranked in the top 15 for much of the year. 

Where UConn goes to do that still is up in the air, as the selection show for the regional rounds will take place Monday at noon Eastern on ESPN2. 

Projections vary. Baseball America has the Huskies in the Louisville Regional, while the NCAA website has them playing in Coral Gables. Wherever UConn ends up this week, it'll unleash a wealth of talent that BIG EAST baseball fans have been bearing witness to all season.