Sophomore LHP Brian Ward gets the nod to start on opening day.
Feb. 16, 2012
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STORRS, Conn. - The University of Connecticut baseball team kicks off its 2012 campaign with a three-game stretch at the Big Ten/BIG EAST Challenge in St. Petersburg and Clearwater, Fla.
About the Huskies... Fresh off the program’s first BIG EAST Regular Season Championship and a run to the NCAA Super Regionals, Connecticut takes the field after posting a 45-20-1 overall record a year ago. UConn returns just four players from last season’s starting lineup and one pitcher from its rotation. The majority of experience coming back is on the infield. Senior Ryan Fuller moves from third base to first, while classmate Tim Martin takes over at third. Fuller batted .316 with a single-season record 27 doubles to go with six homeruns and 58 RBI in his first season in Storrs. Martin, playing primarily as a DH, hit .298 with four homers and 29 runs driven in. Junior second baseman and preseason All-American LJ Mazzilli returns after hitting .338, scored 48 runs, knocked in 32 and hit 23 doubles. Sophomore lefty Brian Ward is the lone starting pitcher coming back. In 2011, he was a late addition to the rotation and went on to win six games, including two in the postseason, while managing a 3.28 ERA and striking out 53.
Big Ten/BIG EAST History... UConn has posted a 4-5 record in the last three challenges. A year ago, the Huskies dropped back-to-back games to Purdue and Minnesota before defeating Michigan, 16-9, for their first win of the season. Nick Ahmed led the Connecticut offense, while batting 5-12 with five RBI, four runs and four extra-base hits. In his first weekend of collegiate baseball, infielder Mike Friel went 3-3 with three runs scored in the win over UM. 2010 marked the only time the Huskies won twice at the challenge, with wins over Minnesota and Indiana.
Scouting the Field... All three Big Ten opponents were within one game of .500 or better in 2011. First on the schedule is Indiana (30-25, seventh place). Up the middle, the Hoosiers return junior 2B Micah Johnson (.335, 19 SB, 34 RBI) and sophomore SS Dustin DeMuth (.360, 12 2B, 8 SB). On the mound sophomore LHP Joey DeNato leads the staff after posting seven wins and a 2.80 ERA. Purdue finished third in the league with an impressive 37-20 record, but fell short of a NCAA appearance. Junior corner infielder Cameron Perkins hit .349 with eight homeruns and 53 RBI last season, while senior 2B Eric Charles batted .351 and scored 49 runs. The Boilermakers return four starting pitchers that won four games or more including senior RHP Joe Haase (6-4, 3.39). The challenge wraps up against Ohio State (26-27, fourth). Junior 2B Ryan Cypret (.323, 35 RBI) and sophomore 1B Josh Dezse (.332, 42 RBI) return to the infield and senior LHP Andrew Armstrong (29.1 IP, 39 K) returns to the bullpen.
Against the Big Ten... The Huskies are 15-19 all-time against the teams that currently compete in the Big Ten. UConn posted a 1-1 record against Penn State and a win in its only meeting with Nebraska, all before the two institutions joined the Big Ten in 1993 and 2012, respectively. The Huskies most common opponent out of the Big Ten is Ohio State. The Buckeyes hold a 3-6 lead in the all-time series.
Up Next... Connecticut takes a short trip north to South Carolina for three games in the Cougar Invitational, hosted by the College of Charleston, between February 24 and 26. The Huskies face Xavier, CofC and Rhode Island.
TWI(UConn)B History... Last season’s Big Ten/BIG EAST Challenge (February 18-20) marked the first time that the Huskies opened their season before February 20.
Early Ranks... Connecticut has received votes in two of the major poll’s preseason rankings. The Huskies received 29 points and are unofficially No. 27 in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches’ Poll and also received votes from Collegiate Baseball.
Taking the Mound... The Huskies lost 308 innings pitched from its 2011 starters, who compiled a 27-13 record and 3.63 ERA. A younger staff, led by Ward, looks to step into fill the void. Several pitchers may make the move from the bullpen to the rotation, including senior RHP David Fischer and redshirt-junior RHP Will Jolin. Jolin posted a 3.76 ERA and struck out 35 batters in 38.1 innings pitched. Junior RHP Pat Butler and sophomore Anthony Marzi will also look to crack the starting rotation, along with a number of freshmen.
Season Openers... UConn has lost six straight season openers. In the Jim Penders era, Connecticut is 1-7 in season openers, with the only win a 10-7 road win at Belmont on February 25, 2005. Since the Huskies joined the BIG EAST, they are 8-19 in season openers.
Exit Poll... UConn finished 2011 ranked 14th in the final USA Today/ESPN Poll, while also being ranked 12th by Baseball America and 13 by Collegiate Baseball.
Bookends... In 2011, Mazzilli batted lead-off in 48 games and Ferriter batted ninth in 56 games. At the top, Mazzilli batted .350 with 40 runs scored and while batting at the bottom Ferriter hit .293 and scored 44 runs.
Back in Action... Redshirt-senior Joe Pavone and redshirt-junior RHP Scott Oberg return to the mix after sitting out 2011 due to injuries. Pavone batted .273 with five homeruns and 20 RBI behind the dish in 2010. Out of the bullpen, Oberg won five games in relief, with a 1.94 ERA in 46.1 innings pitched.