Feb. 8, 2013
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STORRS, Conn. - Head coach Jim Penders enters his 10th season at the helm of the University of Connecticut baseball team. Following the 2012 campaign, he owns a 320-211-4 record, ranking second all-time in wins at UConn.
Penders and the Huskies aim for a return trip to the NCAA Tournament after missing out a year ago, the only time in the three-year careers of UConn’s senior class. The coaching staff will look to the leadership of fifth-year senior Billy Ferriter (Nashua, N.H.), who was voted a team captain for the second straight year. Ferriter and fellow senior LJ Mazzilli (Greenwich, Conn.) are the only remaining starters from Connecticut’s 2011 NCAA Super Regional squad.
Mazzilli was one of three Huskies taken in the 2012 MLB First Year Draft and joined a group of 76 players drafted out of UConn since 1965 and 27th since Penders took over as head coach in 2004. After being taken 280th overall in the ninth round by the Minnesota Twins, Mazzilli elected to return to Storrs for his fourth and final season wearing National Flag blue and white.
The UConn pitching staff returns 368.2 (71%) innings pitched from last season, but just a collective 18-20 record. The challenge for the Husky coaching staff will be determining who will pitch those innings and more importantly; when.
Junior LHP Anthony Marzi (Berlin, Conn.) acquired the role of staff ace last spring and is expected to pick up where he left off as a weekend starter and continue to emerge as a leader. The 6’1 southpaw started 15 games to a 3-8 record in 2012. Marzi earned a 2.55 earned run average, best among UConn starters, and struck out 64 batters, while walking just 20 in 98.2 innings of work.
Penders will look to a moderately experienced group to fill out the rest of the weekend rotation. Junior lefty Brian Ward (Milford, Conn.) looks to reestablish the success he had early last spring and during his freshman year. Standing at 6’3, he returns after spending the summer working on increasing his overall strength and is expected to grab a spot in the rotation once again. Ward went 3-5 with a 5.57 ERA last year through 53.1 innings. He dominated in February and early March with a 1.71 ERA and a 3-0 record, including a win over No. 22 Oklahoma, in his first four starts.
Redshirt-sophomores Carson Cross (Brentwood, N.H.) and Jordan Tabakman (Pompton Plains, N.J.) will be counted on in the rotation as well. Cross, a 6’5 righty that pitched for the Hyannis Harborhawks of the Cape Cod Baseball League in 2012, emerged as a vital piece of the pitching staff as a rookie and will work on increasing his work load after moving out of the bullpen last May. He went 3-1 and has the lowest ERA of returning pitchers at 1.21. Tabakman, a 6’4 righty, returns this year coming off an injury that sidelined him in mid-April. Before being shutdown, he went 3-1 with a 4.25 ERA in eight appearances, including five starts.
Senior Pat Butler (Chatham, N.J.), a 6’5 right-hander, brings valuable experience to the staff as he looks to crack the weekend rotation after serving as UConn’s primary mid-week starter last season. After a strong finish to his junior year, including a relief appearance at the BIG EAST Tournament, he figures to fit in both as a starter and reliever. Butler posted a 2-3 record and struck out a career-best 35 batters in 56.1 innings on the mound.
In the bullpen, senior righty Dan Feehan (Nashua, N.H.) returns as the most experienced veteran. With 71 career games under his belt, the 6’0 sinker-balling setup-man will be a vital cog in the late innings for the Huskies. As a junior, Feehan fanned 20 batters in 20.2 innings, while going 1-2 with a 5.66 ERA. Also adding experience to the pen will be redshirt-senior Will Jolin (Guilford, Conn.). The 6’2 righty owned a 4.18 ERA with a win and a save last season in 14 appearances.
Moving to the pitching staff full-time is senior Ryan Moore (Bristol, Conn.). In 2012, the 6’2 RHP spent the majority of his season in right field, while making just eight appearances out of the bullpen. The athletic, two-way product brings a live arm that can touch velocities in the mid-90s as he shifts his focus to the mound. Moore, who spent the summer on the Cape with the Falmouth Commodores, will factor in to the late innings for Connecticut after tossing eight innings and striking out 10 a year ago. At the plate, he batted .216 with 17 runs scored and six stolen bases.
Over the past two seasons, Connecticut has lost valuable experience behind the plate with the graduations of five-year seniors Doug Elliot in 2011 and Joe Pavone in 2012. Sophomore Connor David (Cheshire, Conn.) has emerged as the leading candidate to catch the majority of games in 2013. An occasional starter and frequent left-handed pinch-hitter, he hit .333 with six RBI in 60 at-bats last season.
Freshman Max McDowell (North Huntington, Pa.) will be counted on to challenge for starting assignments right from the get go. He brings some pop in a righty bat and should get plenty of opportunities as a freshman.
In 2012, the Huskies spent the majority of the season shuffling around the infield, with the exception of second and short. Mazzilli and junior Tom Verdi (Warwick, R.I.), both right-handed bats, provide stability and experience for Connecticut up the middle.
Mazzilli, the BIG EAST Preseason Player of the Year, will hit third and play second base after an All-BIG EAST First Team campaign in 2012. He led the team in batting average (.339), hits (81), doubles (19), home runs (9), RBI (38) and slugging percentage (.548), while tying for the team-lead in runs (43). Mazzilli, who owns the best offensive instincts on the team, has worked toward increasing his power and speed in the offseason.
Verdi will hit near the top or middle of the UConn batting order after hitting .289 in several spots last season. He scored 38 runs, drove in 35, stole 10 bases and smacked four HRs. Verdi possesses excellent defensive skills and brings an improved approach to the plate, while also taking on a leadership role among a relatively young group of infielders.
Freshman Bobby Melley (Barnstable, Mass.), a catcher by nature and a lefty at the plate, is a talented power hitter that will likely earn immediate playing time at first base. He is also capable of earning starts behind the dish as well as at designated hitter.
A pair of versatile freshman infielders, consisting of righty Vinny Siena (Woodbridge, Conn.) and lefty Bryan Daniello (Norwalk, Conn.), will be competing for the starting third base position come February.
Siena has the most power potential of all the UConn newcomers and should earn starts immediately. His defensive range is improving and should lead to starts at third, but is also capable of playing all positions on the infield.
On the other side of the plate, Daniello, the Connecticut Gatorade Player of the Year, is a quick middle infielder with good hands and range in the field. He is capable of playing second, third, short and the outfield and should earn at-bats as the season progresses.
Ferriter will anchor the UConn outfield from center field as he looks to build on his All-BIG EAST First Team selection from 2012. Once again the right-handed hitter will be the team’s lead-off hitter and will be counted on to ignite the Husky offense. Ferriter, who spent a second summer with Falmouth on the Cape, batted .319 last season with 31 RBI, led the team with 24 steals and tied for the team lead in runs at 43.
Sophomore Eric Yavarone (North Haven, Conn.) was a steady performer up-and-down the UConn lineup as a rookie. As the everyday starter in left field, he hit .270 with 24 RBI and 23 runs. Yavarone, a NECBL All-Star over the summer, should provide quality at-bats after proving he can hit in several spots in the order.
Fellow sophomore Jon Testani (Monroe, Conn.), a righty bat, has made the move from the infield to the outfield. After seeing most of his playing time come at third base in the middle of last season, Testani is a leading candidate for the clean-up spot and will look for starts in the corner outfield spots. A hard-working power threat, he will look to become a more consistent hitter after batting .267 with three homers and 21 RBI as a rookie.
Senior Stanley Paul (Stamford, Conn.) is a DH option from the left-side with some power and an explosive bat. If his defensive jumps and routes improve, he has the skill-set to be an everyday starter in right or left. Paul, in his second year in Storrs after playing at Avery-Point, hit .215 with nine RBI and eight doubles in 2012, while also being named an ACBL All-Star over the summer.