Norwin graduate McDowell enjoys 'magical' run with Connecticut
Max McDowell talked with his former Norwin baseball teammates on a near-daily basis this season.
As one of five 2012 Norwin graduates to play collegiate baseball this year, McDowell kept track of his teammates' successes when he wasn't busy having some of his own.
“I know most of them are getting back home now, and they want me to come back,” he said last week.
McDowell, though, was in no such hurry. The Norwin alumnus started at catcher this season for the University of Connecticut, which won the Big East Tournament in late May and played in the NCAA Regionals over the weekend in Blacksburg, Va.
“I want to play here as long as I can,” McDowell said.
Unfortunately for McDowell and the Huskies, their season came up short of a trip to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. Connecticut was eliminated from the double-elimination NCAA Regionals with a 3-1 loss to host Virginia Tech on Sunday.
The Huskies (35-28) finished 1-2 at regionals, defeating No. 16 Virginia Tech, 5-2, on Friday before losing to Oklahoma in 12 innings Saturday and to Virginia Tech on Sunday.
Despite the losses, the season was a memorable one for McDowell.
As a freshman, McDowell appeared in 54 of Connecticut's 63 games, starting 47 of them — mainly at catcher. He batted .257 and contributed four home runs and 25 RBI.
“I really enjoyed (the season),” McDowell said. “It's definitely been a learning experience at the same time, though, learning how much work it takes to manage academics and athletics with your practice schedule and everything. But it's been a really fun time.”
McDowell said playing with other college recruits while at Norwin helped prepare him for his freshman season at Connecticut.
At the same time, however, nothing quite readied him for the postseason success the Huskies enjoyed this season.
While Norwin won four straight section championships during McDowell's time in high school, posting undefeated regular-season records during his junior and senior years, the postseason success didn't quite match up. The Knights failed to advance past the WPIAL Class AAAA quarterfinals during McDowell's time at the school.
Connecticut, meanwhile, entered the Big East Tournament May 22 in Clearwater, Fla., as the No. 8 seed. But the Huskies earned the conference's automatic bid to NCAA Regionals by winning four games in five days, culminating with an 8-1 victory over Notre Dame in the tournament championship game May 26.
“The playoff scenarios definitely came up in the back of my mind when we were down at the Big East (Tournament),” McDowell said. “The thing with Norwin, we never had the chance to actually make it happen and go the whole way. It was really nice to come out on top and finally win a championship.”
It was an unlikely run for Connecticut, which was the lowest-seeded team in the field after finishing with a 9-15 conference record during the regular season.
But the Huskies upset top-seeded Louisville, 3-2, in 12 innings in their first game and followed that by rallying from seven runs down to defeat South Florida in the second round. A 2-1 victory over Rutgers pushed Connecticut to the championship game, where the blowout victory over Notre Dame followed.
“It was awesome — probably one of the best experiences of my life, especially that we ended up coming out on top,” McDowell said. “But it was great — we came out, started with Louisville (and) got a great extra-inning game win. Where it became magical was the seven-run comeback against USF.”
McDowell said the key to Connecticut's late-season run was the team's relaxed attitude. He said the team “played for each other” down the stretch.
“I love everyone on this team,” McDowell said. “Especially as a freshman coming in, they've been great — older guys helping out younger guys, coaches, everything. It's a great atmosphere to play in.”