The Huskies held on to defeat Rutgers 2-1 in a Saturday semifinal game at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Fla., and Connecticut will meet No. 7 seed Notre Dame in the championship game Sunday at noon (ESPNU, WTIC.com and WHUS-91.7 FM). The winner earns the Big East's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
"It's the last Big East championship ever and I've been watching them since 1985 and it's about time we do something special and finish the job [Sunday]," UConn coach Jim Penders said in an interview with Big East Championship Central.
Notre Dame moved into the title game by defeated Pittsburgh 3-2 in 10 innings Saturday. The Irish are 34-23 this season. UConn is now 33-25 after finishing 9-15 in the conference's regular season.
LJ Mazzilli, UConn's first-team All-Big East second baseman, double to drive in a run in the first inning Saturday and then scored on wild pitch. Those were the only runs given up by Rutgers starter Rob Corsi, but the Huskies made it stand up.
Sophomore Jordan Tabakman (6-2) was outstanding over seven innings, allowing six hits with no walks and six strikeouts. Dan Feehan, David Mahoney and Pat Butler (S4) combined for two scoreless innings in relief.
"We knew we could do this," Tabakman said in his postgame interview. "Coach told us the last time we were a No. 8 seed we made it to the championship game. He told us all the other teams have pressure on them. We don't have any pressure. We're Dead Men Walking and we're glad to make it to the championship."
The Huskies have adopted the nickname of Dead Men Walking or Dead Team Walking from the book "Dead Coach Walking" by Tom Penders, their coach's uncle. Tom Penders played baseball and basketball at UConn before going on to a career as a college basketball coach.
Tom and his wife, Susie Dubach Penders, are attending the tournament in Clearwater this week.
UConn has won two Big East tournaments in school history (1992 and '94) and has now advanced to the championship game in four of the past six years. The Huskies will also looking to be making the NCAA tournament for the third time in the past four years.
Notre Dame swept a three-game series against UConn in South Bend, Ind., in late April, outscoring the Huskies 28-10.
"This is one team we want to get revenge on," Tabakman said.
Penders and the Huskies are simply keeping the attitude that they have nothing to lose. UConn has defeated Louisville, USF and Rutgers in the tournament after posting a combined 1-8 record against those teams during the regular season.
"To be honest, I was really disappointed, about a week and a half ago, that we hadn't gotten better" Penders said. "Now I can say we've gotten better. We look like a team.
"I'm enjoying watching us play and hopefully we can play a lot longer," Penders said.