Feb. 12, 2014
STORRS, Conn. – In its 118th edition, the UConn baseball team will take the field for Opening Day on Friday, Feb. 14 when it takes on Ohio State in game one of the 2014 Snowbird Classic. The Huskies will take on OSU, Indiana State and Auburn in Port Charlotte, Fla. as they look to continue one of the most successful eras in the history of the program. First pitch on Friday is set for 5 p.m.
Penders and the Huskies aim for a return trip to the NCAA Tournament after claiming their third and final BIG EAST Championship in Clearwater, Fla. last May. The 2014 squad will be anchored by its veteran leadership, including senior captains Tom Verdi (Warwick, R.I.) and Anthony Marzi (Berlin, Conn.) and redshirt-junior captain Carson Cross (Brentwood, N.H.). UConn has made the NCAA Tournament in three of the last four seasons, including a trip to the Super Regionals in 2011.
Cross was one of four Huskies selected in the 2013 MLB Draft, taken in the 24th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Star second baseman LJ Mazzilli (Greenwich, Conn.) was taken in the fourth round by the New York Mets as the 116th overall pick. Two incoming Huskies, Anthony Kay (Stony Brook, N.Y.) and Taylor Olmstead (Greenwich, Conn.), were also selected in the draft. Since the draft’s inception in 1965, 80 Connecticut players have been taken.
The UConn pitching staff returns two of its top-three starters from the 2013 season, Marzi and redshirt-junior Jordan Tabakman (Pompton Plains, N.J), who combined for 165 of UConn’s 574 total innings (28.7 percent) in 2013.
Prior to the start of the season, Penders announced that Cross will require shoulder surgery and miss the 2014 season. The redshirt-junior will have one year of eligibility remaining following the season. His surgery will be performed at a later date by Dr. James Andrews.
Cross acquired the role of the staff ace late last spring and was a crucial part of the Huskies’ championship run in 2013. The 6’5 righty started 16 games, compiling a team-high nine wins and boasting a 2.44 earned run average. Cross was named to the All-BIG EAST Second Team after finishing second in the league with 86 strikeouts. He was also tabbed as the Preseason American Athletic Conference Co-Pitcher of the Year and grabbed a spot on the Preseason All-Conference team.
Marzi returns to the Huskies for his final season in Storrs after another solid campaign which saw him get the nod in 17 games and record a 5-7 record with a 3.75 ERA. The southpaw was a key piece of the Huskies’ conference tournament run, earning a place on the 2013 BIG EAST All-Tournament Team. In the championship game, Marzi turned in a gem, tossing a complete game against Notre Dame on 5/26.
Penders will look to Tabakman to solidify the weekend rotation, as the redshirt-junior emerged late last season as a reliable option on the hill. Appearing in 22 games, Tabakman served as a reliever early in the season, finishing tied for the team lead with five saves. The righty held opponents scoreless in 14 of his 22 outings and headlined his season with a 117-pitch, nine-inning start against Oklahoma in the Huskies’ second game in the NCAA Blacksburg Regional.
Also in the mix for the starting rotation is senior LHP Brian Ward (Milford, Conn.) who threw 52.2 innings in 10 starts last season and sophomore Christian Colletti, who posted a 3-2 record in nine starts.
Incoming freshman Andrew Zapata (Staten Island, N.Y.) figures to be an option for Penders as the departure of four-year player Pat Butler, who finished his career with 11 wins, opens up valuable innings for the weekday starters. With the injury to Cross, Zapata and Kay are in position to see expanded roles in their freshman campaigns.
In the bullpen, lefty David Mahoney returns after setting a program-record with 34 appearances in 2013. Mahoney compiled 28 strikeouts in 34.1 innings of work and boasted the third lowest ERA on the team at 2.36.
Redshirt sophomore Max Slade (Cheshire, Conn.) saw action in 12 games, pitching 21.1 innings and holding opponents to a .214 batting average, while redshirt-freshmen Michael Niego (Hillsdale, N.J.) and Ryan Radue (Appleton, W.I.) look to make their mark this season.
Devin Over (Windsor, Conn.) could also see big innings out of the pen this year following a strong preseason after redshirting in 2013.
Also joining the pitching staff are newcomers Sam Nepiarsky (Orange, Conn.), Patrick Ruotolo (Peabody, Mass.), Gerard Spiegel (Trumbull, Conn.), Cody Olsen (Commack, N.Y.), Callahan Brown (Jupiter, Fla.), and Trevor Holmes (Ashland, Mass.).
Over the past three seasons, Connecticut lost valuable experience behind the plate with the graduations of five-year seniors Doug Elliot in 2011 and Joe Pavone in 2012 but freshman Max McDowell (North Huntingdon, Pa.) emerged as one of the Huskies most valuable starters in 2013. McDowell appeared in 54 games, making 47 starts, and provided an offensive spark to the lineup, blasting four homeruns and driving in 25 runs. The catcher also threw out 15 base runners in 76 attempts.
Junior Connor David (Cheshire, Conn.) remains a solid bench and pinch-hitting option for Penders behind the plate, as he made 17 starts and registered 20 total bases at the dish.
Also joining the roster for the 2014 season is junior transfer Blake Davey (Newport Beach, Calif.) and Holmes.
Verdi, a shortstop and right-handed batter, provides stability and experience for Connecticut up the middle. Verdi will hit near the top or middle of the UConn batting order after hitting .261 in several spots last season. He scored 45 runs, drove in 21, stole 21 bases and smacked two 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.
The departure of Mazzilli, one of UConn’s most decorated players, opens up a big hole at second base. Siena is a candidate to take over the starting job as he returns for his second year in a Connecticut uniform. He joined Mazzilli as the only other player to record a plus-.300 batting average, finishing at .302. He batted 4-for-5 at the plate with an RBI against Notre Dame in the BIG EAST Championship game on May 26th. His defensive range is improving as he is capable of playing all positions on the infield.
Bryan Daniello (Norwalk, Conn.) will see action at third base after the 5’9 righty made 49 starts last season. Daniello finished the year with a .209 batting average, registering 34 hits in 163 at-bats and recorded nine extra-base hits, including a grand slam against Yale on April 3.
Melley, a converted catcher, finished fourth in UConn single-season history with 558 putouts and provided the Huskies with pop in the middle of the lineup, knocking in 28 and rounding out the year with a .283 average.
Also entering the fray are freshmen Aaron Hill, who was named to the 2012 and 2013 New Haven Register All-State team, Ryan Sullivan (Hopkinton, Mass.), and sophomore transfer Nico Darras (Laguna Beach, Calif.). All three newcomers could see immediate playing time in the field or as UConn’s designated hitters.
For the first time since 2009, UConn will not have Billy Ferriter roaming in the outfield at J.O. Christian field. Sophomore Jack Sundberg (Mansfield, Conn.) is Ferriter’s likely replacement in center field, as the Avon Old Farms graduate made 14 starts last year, recorded 48 at-bats and flashed his speed when he stole five bags in six attempts.
Junior leftfielder Eric Yavarone (North Haven, Conn.) returns to anchor the Husky outfield after posting a .275 batting average in 56 starts and INF/OF Jon Testani gives Penders flexibility heading into the new season.
Fans looking to follow the Huskies all season long can tune into WHUS, the radio home of UConn baseball, at WHUS.org or 91.7 FM. WHUS will carry each UConn game from Opening Day to the postseason.