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UConn earns New England baseball history making sixth straight NCAA tourney bid

May 27—UConn made New England baseball history on Monday by earning the program's sixth straight NCAA tournament berth.

The Huskies received the good news while watching the selection show.

Shortly after receiving an at-large bid, coach Jim Penders talked to his team about the accomplishment.

"Nobody in New England has ever done it," Penders said. "I'm looking at the wall that has those NCAA tournaments from my desk right now and have been staring at it for most of the year just hoping that we could get six in a row. ... We're very proud of it. I mentioned it to the team right before we broke from the Selection Show and started practice.

"... Another thing to be proud of and part of. We made some history today."

UConn (32-23) will play in the Norman (Okla.) regional, opening up against Duke (39-18) at 1 p.m. Friday at L. Dale Mitchell Park.

With his team on the bubble after losing two straight Big East tournament games last week, Penders closely tracked conference tournament games around the country. Some results favored the Huskies.

When Arizona rallied to beat USC, 4-3, in the Pac-12 tournament championship game late Saturday night, Penders felt really good about his team's chances to extend their postseason streak.

"Then when Southern Miss won, then I felt even better," Penders said. "I actually got some sleep (Sunday) night, so it was good. Today, I felt very strongly that we were going to make it. I didn't have as queasy feeling as I had in 2006 or in 2015 or 2017 when we were one of the first four out.

"Today, I was thinking of those guys on those teams when we got bad news together. It was nice not to have to do exit meetings today and we could have a really nice, light, fun practice."

UConn's overall resume proved to be worthy of an NCAA tournament bid.

The Huskies rolled to a Big East regular season championship, winning every series while finishing with 17 league victories. They played a demanding, travel-heavy non conference schedule that sometimes required road trips to Florida, California (twice) and Alabama.

Their reputation as a quality program also worked in their favor.

"Our stature nationally is better than it was in 2006," Penders said. "I think people know us, they know the Hook C across the country now. But I don't want to take anything away from this team when I say that. I really do believe we earned it. ... We had four home series, that was it, all year. ... It's been an arduous road. Our schedule was not for the faint of heart. I think we weathered the storm."

UConn's road ahead also is tough.

Oklahoma (37-19), the regional host, is the ninth seeded team in the tournament field. The Sooners will play Oral Roberts (27-30-1) in the first round of the double elimination regional.

Duke (39-18) earned an automatic bid by thumping Florida State, 16-4, to win the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title. The Blue Devils are making their 11th NCAA tourney appearance.

The regional winner will move on to the super regional round.

"It's another opportunity to start a new season," Penders said. "Everybody is 0-0 and it doesn't matter what you've done to get there, you're in. So make the most of that opportunity.

"... Nobody else expected us to be here, but we did. So, let's go make the most of it and play loose."

g.keefe@theday.com