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UConn baseball stuns Oklahoma, 4-1, needs one win to reach NCAA Super Regional

Coach Jim Penders has been telling his UConn baseball players all week they were “dead men walking.” Written off after losing the Big East tournament, they’d fallen off the national radar.

At least that’s what he wanted them to believe, even after UConn got a second chance with an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Appearing free of pressure, the Huskies have pulled off two stunning upsets in the regional at Norman, Okla.

On Saturday night, righthander Stephen Quigley pitched eight great innings and Luke Broadhurst hit a three-run homer as UConn beat Oklahoma, 4-1, at Dale Mitchell Field.

This puts the No.3-seeded Huskies in the driver’s seat, needing to win only one more game to advance, with two chances to do it. On Sunday night (9 p.m.), they will play the survivor of the Oklahoma-Duke elimination game earlier in the day. If UConn loses Sunday night, there would be a winner-take all game on Monday night.

UConn (34-23) started the tournament with a 4-1 win over Duke, and put together a string of 15 scoreless innings against two lineups that came into the regional with batting averages above .300. Quigley (6-3) held Oklahoma scoreless until the eighth, when Kendall Pettis led off the with a home run. When he issued a lead-off walk in the ninth, his first walk of the game, Quigley came out with 124 pitches thrown.

Righty Brady Afthim walked the first batter he faced, then retired the next three for his eighth save.

Penders, mindful of Oklahoma’s bunting and running game, chose Quigley, a grad student and one of his best fielding and most athletic pitchers. Matt Hyde, a defense-first catcher, again started in place of Matt Garbowski, but Garbowski was sufficiently recovered from his flu symptoms to be available on the bench.

The decisions paid off, as Quigley and Hyde kept the Sooners (38-20), ranked 17th by Baseball America and the No.9 overall seed in the Field of 64, off the scoreboard through seven innings. Oklahoma got seven hits, but Hyde threw out one of two runners trying to steal, the bunt never became a factor and Quigley was able to work out of trouble, striking out only two, but getting the Sooners to hit the ball on the ground.

The Huskies had trouble making contact against Oklahoma lefthander Braden Davis, who struck out 10 through the first six innings, but did get a run in the third. Davis walked two batters, then Korey Morton singled to left, his fourth hit of the regional, to score Paul Tammaro and give the Huskies a 1-0 lead. UConn stranded seven runners through the fifth.

Quigley, over 100 pitches, got through the seventh when first baseman Maddix Dalena snared a line drive from Rocco Garza-Gongora, taking away a potential double, and stepped on the bag to turn it into a double play.

Davis, too, was over 100 pitches as Hyde started the seventh with a lineout, then Caleb Shpur and Tammaro stroked singles, prompting a pitching change. Righthander Dylan Crooks was summoned to face Luke Broadhurst, who drove one over the left field wall, just inside the foul pole, to give the Huskies a 4-0 lead.

Broadhurst, from Stafford, who helped Eastern Connecticut win a Division III World Series in 2022 before transferring back to UConn, is an old hand at postseason play, and in his sixth season of college baseball.