STORRS, Conn. (February 18, 2008) — The University of Connecticut baseball team, led by fifth-year head coach Jim Penders, will begin the 2008 season on Friday as they travel to DeLand, Fla. for a three-game weekend invitational.
The UConn baseball team is coming off a successful season in 2007, after battling its way into the BIG EAST Tournament Championship game as the number eight seed. UConn’s appearance in the title game marked the lowest seed in BIG EAST Tournament history to reach the final game. In addition, four former Huskies signed professional baseball contracts after the 2007 season, including Mike Tarsi, Dennis Donovan, Josh Farkes and Larry Day.
The 2008 Huskies enter this season with five returning position players from the starting lineup and three starting pitchers. After the success of last year’s team, these young athletes know how it feels to compete for a BIG EAST Championship title. With a combination of the experienced veterans, skilled pitchers and highly-talented newcomers, the Huskies clearly have the personnel necessary for another great season.
Increasing depth in the pitching staff has been one of the major focuses over the past few seasons for the UConn baseball team. The Huskies used freshman starters in four out of the six games that the Huskies played in the BIG EAST Tournament last season. With the experience last year, mixed with some talented veterans and newcomers, the UConn pitching staff feels it has the depth needed to make and complete a championship run.
Working out the weekend rotation for the spring will not be an easy task, but there are plenty of good options at the hands of the coaching staff. Returning Sunday starter and sophomore, Greg Nappo (Madison, Conn.) will miss the 2008 season, after having Tommy John surgery this fall. His contributions will be sorely missed after he had made big strides throughout his freshman season for the Huskies on the mound. Fellow sophomores Bob Van Woert (Johnson City, N.Y.) and Dusty Odenbach (Rochester, N.Y.) will look to anchor the staff this season. The rest of the rotation will be filled out by a number of capable contributors. Freshman and New York Yankees' 16th round draft pick Dan Mahoney (Boston, Mass.), along with fellow draftee, Tampa Bay's 46th round pick Elliot Glynn (Los Alamitos, Calif.), will both bring quality pitches and presence to the hill. Junior transfer Matt McDonald (Dartmouth, Nova Scotia) and sophomore Trent DeLazzer (Cypress, Calif.) also have the ability to be major contributors to the Huskies' pitching staff.
The UConn bullpen has a real chance to dominate the later innings of games this season, led by senior closer Matt Karl (Wallingford, Conn.), who is just eight saves away from setting a new UConn career record. Junior co-captain David Erickson (Stratford, Conn.) has been in plenty of tight situations and could easily close out games for the Huskies as well. Will Musson (Wethersfield, Conn.) has emerged as another option along with hard throwing junior Erik Turgeon (Palm Harbor, Fla.). Another junior, Dennis Accomando (Monroe, Conn.), has also made a case for some innings out of the bullpen for the Huskies this season. Junior John Folino (Quincy, Mass.), sophomore Doug Jennings (Pompton Plains, N.J.) and freshman Maxx Catapano (Fairfield, Conn.) can all work effectively out of the bullpen as well as make spot starts for head coach Jim Penders. Sophomore Stephen Blumetti (Union, N.J.) will be another option for the Huskies on the mound when needed.
There are several talented freshman lefthanders who are still developing into their roles as Ted Hurvul (Monroe, Conn.) comes at hitters with a quality three-pitch mix and a fearless approach while hard throwing Mike Hashem (North Andover, Mass.) could be very successful for the Huskies when he refines his secondary pitches. Ryan Mikalsen (Farmingville, N.Y.) is recovering from Tommy John surgery he had during his senior year of high school and when healthy, the lanky lefty locates three quality pitches.
UConn hopes that the quality of depth they have in the pitching staff will lead them to a BIG EAST Championship as this group possesses the ability to do just that.
The Husky outfield also has some flexibility as senior Gordon Stevens (Vista, Calf.) returns and could man either center or leftfield. Stevens hopes to consistently provide the spark he did down the stretch last season. Sophomore Harold Brantley Jr. (Silver Spring, Md.) can flip with Stevens in center or left as Brantley covers a lot of ground and provides some punch and speed in the lineup.
Glynn is the likely starter in right field but that position will need to be filled when Glynn takes the mound for the Huskies. Juniors Matt Burnett (Endicott, N.Y.) and Julian Gestewitz (Panorama City, Calif.) provide left-handed and right-handed swinging options for Coach Penders, while we could also easily see sophomore Peter Fatse (Hampden, Mass.) and senior Pat Mahoney (Des Moines, Iowa) manning any one of the outfield positions.
Replacing preseason All-BIG EAST selection Larry Day will not be an easy task. Despite this, freshman Joe Pavone (Rochester, N.Y.) has given the UConn coaching staff a reason to believe that it is possible. Pavone is athletic and mature, while he also swings the bat very well.
Senior co-captain Pat Mahoney has all the same abilities as Pavone, but only lacks experience in the position at this level. Drafted as a catcher out of high school, Mahoney has played virtually everywhere but behind the plate. With only a few innings at catcher to his credit, his hard work this off-season has made him a very good option. Sophomore Doug Elliot (Rocky Hill, Conn.) and senior Brad Olt (Branford, Conn.) will both be looked upon to fill in for Pavone and Mahoney.
Much like Day, finding a replacement for Dennis Donovan in the middle of the UConn defense and order is no easy chore. And, much like Pavone, freshman shortstop Mike Olt (Branford, Conn.) has given the UConn coaching staff another reason to believe that it may be possible. A gifted athlete, Olt has all the ability to be an instant contributor the UConn program. This 2008 UConn squad has many moving parts and the infield is probably the best example of this. The remaining infield options can all play either second base, short stop or third base. Pat Mahoney will most likely spend time at third when not catching while junior Dale Brannon (St. Petersburg, Fla.) can play all three positions and has made a living in his UConn career by making smart plays and coming up with clutch hits. Freshman Pierre LePage (Wolcott, Conn.), who is rarely seen in a clean uniform, uses his athleticism and a quick first step to cover a lot of ground at all positions. Sophomore Fatse uses his versatility in the infield as well as the outfield. Turgeon, who has fully recovered from knee surgery, looks more and more like his old self and should spend some time at third. Freshman Steve Hajdin (Strongsville, Ohio) provides another option at second and short. Karl will spend some time at first base along with Brad Olt and freshman Mike Nemeth (Washington, N.J.).
The Huskies begin the 2008 season playing three different opponents during the first weekend of play. To start the season off, UConn will face one of the top prospects in the country in Missouri's No. 1 starter while Stetson will be another challenge as its baseball program has a great tradition of success. Michigan State is an up-and-coming program as they round out the three opponents who the Huskies will face right out of the gate.
UConn will then take on a well-coached UNC-Greensboro program in a three-game series before the Papa John’s Palm Beach Challenge set to start on March 8. In the first three weeks of the season, the Huskies will face three Big Ten Conference programs.
The Huskies will begin BIG EAST play on March 14 as they travel to Georgetown for the three-game conference series. Penders' ball club will return to Connecticut to face Sacred Heart on March 18 before traveling to Louisville for another conference series. After three non-conference games in late March, the Huskies will finish out the month with their first BIG EAST Conference home series against Villanova. UConn will begin the month of April with six straight days of competition, as the Huskies will travel to Hartford before a five-game home stand against Boston College, Fairfield and BIG EAST opponent Cincinnati. After a pair of non-league games, the Huskies will face a talented St. John's program in Jamaica, Queens.
Seton Hall and West Virginia, two teams that fell short in making the BIG EAST Tournament a year ago, will wrap up conference action in April for the Huskies with a Pirates' visit to Storrs followed by trip to Morgantown, W.Va. for the Huskies to face the Mountaineers. UConn will finish the month with a battle against in-state rival Central Connecticut, as the Huskies will host the Blue Devils in a single game on April 30.
The Huskies will host BIG EAST opponent Notre Dame in a three-game weekend series to open play in the month of May. UConn will then travel down Interstate-91 for a non-conference game against Quinnipiac University before traveling to both Boston College and Pittsburgh. The BIG EAST series against Pittsburgh will wrap up the 2008 regular season for the Huskies before the conference tournament, set to take place at the Brighthouse Networks Field, May 20-24 in Clearwater, Florida.
“Every year we try to have a tougher schedule than the year before, especially when we open up the season in February,” said head coach Jim Penders. “This season’s schedule will definitely be more challenging than last year’s, but it will help us once we get into BIG EAST Conference competition.”
The Huskies head down to DeLand, Fla. for their first game of the 2008 season as they get set to face Missouri on Friday, Feb. 22 at 1:00 p.m. A game against host of the Hatter Invitational, Stetson, will take place on Saturday at 7:00 p.m. followed by a Sunday match-up against Michigan State at 12:00 p.m.