Written by Chris Jones, Special to UConnHuskies.com
Everyone experiences failure. We know the feeling - really, the many feelings and emotions that it creates. But how do you respond to failure? What do you do in those minutes, hours and days that follow? Those moments, form and mold the person that you will become.
The last time many UConn baseball fans saw William Montgomerie was against East Carolina in The American Championship Semifinals. The stakes obvious for UConn, win or go home. Montgomerie jogged out to the hill in the top of the first inning with a successful freshmen season under his belt. Splitting time as a midweek starter and bullpen pitcher for the Huskies, Montgomerie seemed ready for this moment.
Unfortunately for Montgomerie, a nightmare type scenario followed: Ball 1, Ball 2, Ball 3, and Ball 4 to Hunter Allen. This repeated to Charlie Yorgen, even with a visit from Pitching Coach Josh MacDonald and another visit from Vinny Siena. Finally, Montgomerie fired a strike to Reid Love but then followed with four straight off the mark to load the bases in the first. Head coach Jim Penders hopped out of the third base dugout and relieved Montgomerie after just 13 pitches. In a blink of an eye, disaster for the freshmen. The Huskies ended up losing 4-2, ending their 2015 season.
The last time I saw Wills Montgomerie was on the bus ride following that game. With the freshmen sitting closest to the front of the bus, I typically sat by myself, but after sitting next to Montgomerie prior to his first start against William & Mary, it became a superstition to sit next to Wills prior to each of his starts. After climbing onto that emotional bus and parking myself next to Montgomerie, you could see the emotions coursing through him.
Fast forward to last week, walking in and seeing Montgomerie, that wry smile spread across his face. Montgomerie looked in great shape, added muscle and leaner than I last remember. He didn't shy away from the adversity he had been through and seemed to embrace it through our conservation.
"Conference games, that level of competition, there is just an extra edge to it," said Montgomerie. "And I definitely felt that, especially in the tournament, there is always that additional, you have to win here."
"I didn't try to put too much pressure on myself, I just think I was over amped. Usually my pre-game starts I would be relaxed, calm and focused. And during that game I just couldn't get relaxed. I knew what was on the line, and didn't want to jeopardize our season."
It wasn't the first time that Montgomerie had dealt with failure on the mound. His first appearance as a Husky was not a pleasant one either. Against FAU, Montgomerie came out the bullpen pitched 1/3 inning, allowed 2 hits 4 ER and balked twice.
Both demoralizing at the time but how would the freshmen respond?
"Being put into that first game," said Montgomerie. "There were some bumps in the road but it was definitely a great learning experience for me, getting to face that type of competition and being able to fail. With failure comes success, so I just took that and used as a learning block."
The outlook on his rough outing in Clearwater spoke volumes as well.
"After Clearwater, I was shocked," said Montgomerie. "I was like that the rest of the week. I felt like I let the entire team down. But I went into summer ball with an attitude that I had to let that go, regroup and just restart. And you have another year at UConn next year that I can prove myself again. But that was a changing moment in my baseball career."
A motivated Montgomerie went to pitch for the Waynesboro General in the Valley League. Montgomerie tossed 18.0 innings, logged a 2.50 ERA while striking out 21 batters. In one of those starts against Stanton, Montgomerie went 7.0 innings and struck out 10.
"It was the rivalry game Stanton vs. Waynesboro," said Montgomerie. "At Stanton, so all the fans were on you the entire game. 3,000 people, it was a fun time to pitch. I took in that moment and had fun with it. Everything was working that day."
While working on developing his changeup and breaking ball over the summer, Montgomerie may be most excited about the program he discovered over the summer.
"I feel like I found a program that made me feel better, post-game, pre-game and throughout the week leading up to the start. It helped me get bigger and stronger," said Montgomerie.
This program has Montgomerie excited about potentially working his way into the weekend rotation this year and being able to endure the extended workload.
"That's what I told myself heading into the summer," said Montgomerie. "I had to get in better shape. Start running a little more, lifting more. Putting on some more muscle mass. I definitely worked harder than I did last year."
"I feel like I have done enough where I am going to be durable. If I get it [weekend spot], I'm going to be able to make those 15, 16 starts in a season. Especially with the program that I'm going to follow through the season, which is going to help me maintain my body mass, stay lean and conditioned between starts."
The elephant in the room is if the sophomore right-hander is ready to elevate his game into the UConn weekend rotation. Montgomerie is not scared to talk about wanting that role on the pitching staff.
"I told the coaches that I want to be in the weekend rotation," said Montgomerie. "Regardless of if I am or not, I just want to help the team win. Whatever role that is, I'm excited to prove myself."
UConn pitching coach Josh MacDonald believes that at this point Montgomerie is making a strong case to be on the weekend staff.
"I know Wills is probably a little bit beat up about his last time in a UConn uniform," said MacDonald. "He looks great, his body is in great shape, he looks strong.He looks like a guy that if you want to take a spot from him [weekend rotation] you are going to need to do it in the next few weeks. The window was open a little and Wills has closed that window. That's what it looks like so far."
Montgomerie agrees with Coach MacDonald and believe his confidence is there.
"I feel like the confidence is there again," said Montgomerie. "I lost it in Clearwater but I gained it back this summer. I look at it in a whole new light, just got to have fun out there, it's a kid's game and I put too much pressure on myself last year."
He was may have been down on the mat last May but Wills Montgomerie has picked himself up and used his negative experiences in positive fashion. A testament to how he has responded to adversity.