Feb. 13, 2012
STORRS, Conn. - Head coach Jim Penders enters his ninth season at the helm of the University of Connecticut baseball team. He earned his second straight and third overall BIG EAST Coach of the Year award after guiding the Huskies to their first BIG EAST Regular Season Championship and an appearance in the NCAA Super Regionals last season.
The 2012 UConn baseball team will work toward duplicating the success of 2011, despite a number of personnel changes at key positions. “We can’t focus on what we did last year, or what we’ve lost from 2011, if we’re going to have a championship season in 2012,” stated Penders. “We will concentrate on continuing the development that took place last fall, and hopefully gel our old and new parts together to form a Big East contender.” This year, the Huskies will call on some new faces to step up in a big way, but the team has kept a solid core of major contributors from a year ago.
Connecticut had a program-best 10 players drafted in the 2011 Major League Baseball Draft, nine of which signed. For the first time in program history, two UConn players, George Springer (11th overall pick by Houston) and Matt Barnes (19th by Boston), were selected in the first round. Senior pitcher David Fischer (Scotia, N.Y.), the 30th round draft pick of the San Francisco Giants, returns for his final season as a Husky.
UConn’s starting rotation will look completely different from the start of the 2011 campaign. Sophomore Brian Ward (Milford, Conn.) steps up to the top of the rotation after moving in at the back-end of last season. Ward, a 6’3 southpaw, came out of the bullpen in four of his first five collegiate appearances, before earning a spot in the rotation. He finished 2011 with a 6-1 record in 10 starts and a 3.28 earned run average.
“Solidifying a starting rotation will be one of the first orders of business once the season gets underway,” said Penders. “The sooner we determine who will eat those innings, the better our team will be.”
As a whole, the Huskies lost 308 innings pitched from its 2011 starters, who compiled a 27-13 record and 3.63 ERA. Barnes, a First Team All-American, and Greg Nappo combined for 21 wins last season and 49 in their careers. A younger staff looks to step in this season and get UConn back to the NCAA Tournament.
Fischer, a 6’5 right-hander, will make the move from the bullpen to the rotation this year after earning two starts in 24 appearances last year. Last season, he posted a 2-1 record, 2.20 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 49 innings pitched. For his career, Fischer has made seven starts and owns a 3.11 ERA over the last three years.
Junior RHP Pat Butler (Chatham, N.J.) is the only other Husky returning with any collegiate starts under his belt. Butler started four of the seven games he appeared in last season. He stands at 6’5 and put together a 3-1 record in 27 innings pitched.
Redshirt-junior Will Jolin (Guilford, Conn.) and sophomore Anthony Marzi (Berlin, Conn.) will also contend for a spot in the UConn rotation. Jolin, a 6’2 righty, came out of the bullpen 24 times last season and Marzi, a 6’1 lefty, made seven appearances out of the pen.
The Huskies return a significant amount of experience in the bullpen. Despite the loss of Second Team All-American Kevin Vance, UConn is still prepared to close out games in the late innings. Junior RHP Dan Feehan (Nashua, N.H.) has played in 51 games, all in relief, and owns a career 2.79 ERA over 80.2 innings. He stands at 6’0 and has locked down four saves over the last two years.
Redshirt-junior Scott Oberg (Tewksbury, Mass.) returns after sitting out the 2011 season. In 2010, the 6’2 righty came out of the pen in 30 games, posting a 5-2 record and 1.94 ERA. For his career, Oberg holds a 9-2 record, 1.88 ERA and a pair of saves.
Junior Ryan Moore (Bristol, Conn.) will appear out of the bullpen, while looking to also take the field as an outfielder this season. Last year the 6’2 right-hander appeared in 12 games in relief. Also returning to the pen is 6’0 redshirt-senior southpaw Ted Hurvul (Monroe, Conn.). He appeared in just one game last year before being shutdown, but in 2010 he came on in relief 13 times. Hard-throwing redshirt-freshman RHP Carson Cross (Brentwood, N.H.) will vie to close games out of the bullpen after sitting out 2011. Junior RHP Stephen Catalina (Wolcott, Conn.) pitched 10 innings in nine games last season, but is fresh off Tommy John surgery and will be working to get back to the UConn bullpen and contribute, once cleared.
Redshirt-freshman David Mahoney (Colchester, Conn.) sat out last season, but is fresh off a championship summer with the Keane Swampbats of the NECBL. A left-handed pitcher, Mahoney will give added depth to both the starting rotation and bullpen. Right-handed throwing redshirt-freshman Jordan Tabakman (Pompton Plains, N.J.), a transfer from the University of North Carolina, capable of starting or relieving, should he be granted a transfer waiver by the NCAA.
A talented crop of freshman round out the Huskies’ pitching staff this year. LHP Jared Dettmann (Somerset, Wis.) could contend for a spot in the starting rotation, while RHP Michael Healey (Tunkhannock, Pa.) should see time late in ball games. Connecticut natives and right-handers Devin Over (Windsor, Conn.) and Max Slade (Cheshire, Conn.) will enter the season rehabbing injuries, but are expected to contribute, once cleared.
Behind the plate, UConn lost Doug Elliot, who caught nearly every inning a year ago. The good news is that redshirt-senior captain Joe Pavone (Rochester, N.Y.) returns to finish his career after sitting out due to an injury in 2011. Pavone, a right-handed bat, is a Preseason All-BIG EAST selection after batting .273 in 2010. He also scored 24 runs, knocked in 20 and belted five homeruns.
Freshman Alex DeBellis (Kinnelon, N.J.) joins the Huskies and will be called upon to make an immediate impact. Pavone or DeBellis, a right-handed hitter, will also be prime candidates to be used as the designated hitter when the other is behind the dish.
A pair of lefty bats in senior John Sulzicki (Stratford, Conn.) and freshman Connor David (Cheshire, Conn.) will also contend to be in the mix at catcher. In 2011, Sulzicki played in 12 games and started one behind the plate. David is a solid defensive catcher that gives Penders another option behind the plate.
Around the horn, Coach Penders has shuffled his infield from where it was last season. The one constant is junior second baseman LJ Mazzilli (Greenwich, Conn.). Mazzilli, a right-handed hitter, is a Preseason NCWBA and Perfect Game All-American as well as a Preseason All-BIG EAST selection. Last year, he hit .338 and tied for the team-lead in runs scored with 93 on his way to being named to the All-BIG EAST Second Team. Mazzilli also hit 23 doubles, three homeruns and stole 11 bases in 2011.
Senior captain Ryan Fuller (Old Lyme, Conn.) moves from third base to first base, where Mike Nemeth was a mainstay over the last four years, this season. While playing the hot corner in 2011, he batted .316 in his first season at UConn. Fuller, a right-handed hitter who transferred from UConn-Avery Point after 2010, blasted six homeruns, a single season program-record 27 doubles, picked up 58 RBI and swiped 11 bags.
Fellow senior captain Tim Martin (Stratford, Conn.) played primarily at DH last season and has seen action at second base over his career. This year he strengthens the infield defense by moving to third base. A left-handed hitter and All-BIG EAST Third Team selection a year ago, he enters 2012 as a Preseason All-BIG EAST honoree. Martin had a breakout season in 2011 after playing sparingly his first two seasons. He hit .298 with four homeruns and 29 RBI.
Looking to crack the lineup on a consistent basis this year is sophomore Tom Verdi (Warwick, R.I.). Penders and his coaching staff will look to Verdi, a righty bat, to step into the starting shortstop position and replace Nick Ahmed. He was used as a utility infielder last year, starting at both shortstop and second base. Verdi totaled 25 starts and 35 games played, while hitting .230 as a freshman.
Sophomore Mike Friel (Belle Mead, N.J.) brings back a year of experience after playing on the infield and as a designated hitter last season. In 24 games and 18 starts, Friel, a pesky hitter, batted .264 with nine runs scored and eight RBI.
Freshman newcomer Jon Testani (Monroe, Conn.) will also compete for playing time on the infield. Testani is a versatile right-handed hitter than can play second, third or short and will also challenge for playing time in the outfield. Fellow freshmen Scott DeJong (North Haledon, N.J.) and Ryan Kirman (Little Silver, N.J.) also bat from the right side. DeJong adds depth at first base and a big bat, while Kirman brings his athleticism to the infield.
Junior captain Billy Ferriter (Nashua, N.H.) is the lone returning starter in the outfield. This season, the right-handed bat moves from left field to center. One of the fastest players in the BIG EAST, Ferriter hit .284 and scored 45 runs, while stealing 16 bases last year. He is a career .326 hitter with 102 runs and 49 steals.
Moore, a right-handed hitter, and excellent athlete will likely make his way into the lineup in right field this season. A year ago, he played in 14 games and made six starts. Also returning and looking for a spot in the outfield is sophomore Anthony Aceto (North Providence, R.I.). Another righty bat, Aceto also started six times in 14 games played.
Freshman right-handed hitter Eric Yavarone (North Haven, Conn.) will look for at-bats immediately and contend for a starting spot in left field. The Huskies have also added Stanley Paul (Stamford, Conn.), a left-handed hitting transfer from UConn-Avery Point, where he was an All-New England selection and helped UCAP to back-to-back NJCAA World Series appearances. Paul will also push for immediate opportunities in left or right.
The 2012 campaign gets underway at the Big Ten/BIG EAST Challenge in Florida, February 17-19. Connecticut’s first two games of the year come against Indiana and Purdue in St. Petersburg, followed by a game against Ohio State in Clearwater on February.
“We have a very demanding early season schedule,” Penders stated. “It will test our youthful squad, and prepare us for Big East play toward the end of March.” Last season the Huskies went 1-2 in the challenge, including a loss to Purdue.
The Big Ten/BIG EAST challenge will be the first of five early season road trips for the Huskies. From Florida, UConn will move a little farther north to participate in the Cougar Invitational, February 24-26. Connecticut starts with a game against Xavier, followed by a match-up with host Charleston and finishes against Rhode Island.
March begins with a four-game set in Mississippi for a pair against Lipscomb and Mississippi State, March 2-4.
The next trip will take the Huskies west for the program’s first visit to the Pacific Northwest in Oregon for the NIKE Showcase, March 9-11. UConn will take on Oklahoma and Illinois out of the Big XII and Big Ten, each for the first time. Connecticut will also play at Oregon State in Corvallis and Oregon, a 2010 NCAA Regional opponent, in Eugene. The Huskies will venture north to Washington to take on Seattle on March 12.
UConn returns to the East Coast for a second competition in South Carolina. This time, the Huskies will participate in the Coastal Carolina Tournament, hosted by Coastal Carolina, March 16-18. Connecticut faces off with Alabama-Birmingham on March 16 and Michigan on March 18 with a game against 2011 NCAA Regional opponent CCU in between.
On March 21, the Huskies return to Storrs for their first home game at J.O. Christian Field as they are matched up with intrastate rival Yale.
BIG EAST play starts on March 23 with a three-game series at West Virginia. The first home conference series of the season is against defending BIG EAST Tournament Champion Seton Hall, who defeated UConn twice in last year’s tournament, March 30-April 1.
Connecticut will play five home games away from campus this season. On April 21, May 5 and 15, the Huskies will take to the field against Rutgers, Cincinnati for a doubleheader, and Rhode Island at Dodd Stadium in Norwich. UConn will also play at New Britain Stadium against Notre Dame on May 18.
The Huskies will play 12 games against teams that participated in last season’s NCAA Tournament, including three against teams that advanced to the Super Regionals. Mississippi State, Oklahoma, Illinois, Oregon State, Coastal Carolina, Seton Hall and St. John’s (April 13-15) all played in the NCAA Tournament in 2011.
Aside from the game against Yale, the Huskies take on four other Connecticut schools when they play Hartford (March 27), Central Connecticut (March 28), Quinnipiac (April 9) and Fairfield (April 17).
The BIG EAST Baseball Championship will once again be played in Clearwater, Fla. at Bright House Field and will take place May 23-27.
For 2012, Penders has added a pair of former UConn players to his coaching staff. Jeff Hourigan (‘05) and Josh MacDonald (‘06) will each make their debuts with the Huskies this season. Hourigan, who played two seasons at Clemson before transferring to Connecticut, will also serve as the team’s recruiting coordinator. He has spent the last five seasons as an assistant coach at the University of New Haven. MacDonald brings a wealth of pitching coach experience to the UConn staff after having spent the last two seasons with the Bourne Braves of the Cape Cod Baseball League and 2007-09 with Long Island University.