STORRS, Conn. (February 21, 2007) — The University of Connecticut baseball team raises the curtain on the 2007 season when the Huskies travel to Cullowhee, N.C., to take on Southern Conference foe Western Carolina in a three-game series beginning Friday afternoon at 3:00 p.m. from Childress Field.
The series continues Saturday afternoon at 1:00 p.m. and concludes Sunday afternoon at 1:00 p.m.
Guided by fourth-year head coach Jim Penders, the 2007 University of Connecticut baseball team enters the season following a year in which the Huskies set a school-record with 39 wins. With seven of nine starters returning for a club that finished second in the BIG EAST a season ago, the Huskies look poised and primed to make a run at the 2007 BIG EAST Championship. With a combination of seasoned veterans, experienced pitchers and highly-touted newcomers, the Huskies clearly feature the personnel necessary to enjoy another big season.
The 2007 infield is expected to open the season the same way it finished in 2006 as all four Husky starters return. Senior Matt Untiet (Berlin, Conn.) is expected to open the season at first base following a season in which he hit .310 and drove in 41 runs. In 56 games played a season ago, Untiet made just eight errors and finished third on the team with a .985 fielding percentage. Junior Matt Karl (Wallingford, Conn.) is another player capable of excelling at first base should Untiet not be available. Karl finished the 2006 season with a .288 batting average and established himself as one of the Huskies’ most clutch hitters. A steady and solid BIG EAST ball player, look for Karl to be inserted into the designated hitter role as well.
Sophomore Dale Brannon (St. Petersburg, Fla.) returns for his second stint at second base. Having just committed five errors last season in 53 games, Brannon provides the Huskies with a consistent and reliable defender at second base. Brannon also gives the Huskies a spark when on base as he is one of UConn’s top baserunners. Freshman Peter Fatse (Hampden, Mass.) should provide depth at second for the Huskies. Described by his coaches as one of the hardest working players on the team, Fatse is a good hitter with excellent bat control. Look for Fatse to also see time in the outfield corners because of his bat.
Senior co-captain Dennis Donovan (Center Moriches, N.Y.), the anchor of the Husky infield, enters the season as UConn’s starting shortstop. One of the Huskies’ most clutch performers, Donovan had a breakout season in 2006 as he finished second on the club in batting average (.341), slugging percentage (.500), RBI (42) and home runs (5). He led the team with 107 total bases and was tied for the team lead with 17 doubles. Donovan has battled through multiple injuries to emerge as one of UConn’s top offensive and defensive threats.
Expect third base to be manned by sophomore Erik Turgeon (Palm Harbor, Fla.). Turgeon turned in an outstanding year both at the plate and in the field as a freshman. His versatility was shown last year as he led the team with a .450 on-base percentage and committed just five errors all season. One of the team’s most gifted and instinctive players, Turgeon rounds out one of the most experienced and dynamic infields in the BIG EAST.
Having lost two outfield starters due to graduation, the Huskies will look to several players to replace both Austin Wasserman and Bryan Maler. Junior Pat Mahoney (Des Moines, Iowa) looks to be the front runner to earn the starting spot in left field. A player who can literally play all nine positions on the field, Mahoney’s bat will especially be counted on in the middle of the order. Last season he showed how important he was at the plate as he finished second on the team in both hits (75) and total bases (106). Sophomore Matt Burnett (Endicott, N.Y.) will also be in contention to see time in left field. Burnett is very physical with an above average arm and developed with a strong fall season. Freshman Harold Brantley (Silver Spring, Md.) is another candidate that will battle for playing time in left field. Brantley impressed the coaching staff with a strong work ethic during the fall. Brantley also features above average speed and could be one of the Huskies’ top running threats this season. Sophomore Ted O’Reilly (Arlington, Mass.) will also be counted on to play in left or center field. Quite possibly the Huskies’ best true outfielder, O’Reilly played in just 14 games in 2006 due to injury, but still has a great opportunity to win the position.
Junior transfer Gordon Stevens (Vista, Calif.) is expected to see the majority of time in center field after a pair of outstanding seasons at Palomar College. Stevens features better than average speed and will be called upon to steal bases for the Huskies this season. He has excellent bat speed, pop in his bat and is slated to hit at the top of the order. Along with his offensive skills, Stevens is an aggressive outfielder who can cover a lot of ground.
The only returning starter in the outfield, senior Josh Farkes (Boston, Mass.) is back for a final season in right. Last year, Farkes was one of the offensive leaders as he led the team with a .349 batting average and a .507 slugging percentage. He was also tied for second with five home runs. Not only did Farkes produce at the plate, but he also paced the team with a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage in 52 games played. Described by Penders as a five-tool player, the coaching staff anticipates Farkes to have another outstanding season this year from start to finish. Freshman Andrew Tarca (Hopkinton, Mass.) is also expected to see time in the outfield as he possesses the ability to spell the starters at any of the three positions. Tarca features an above average arm and is an excellent base runner. His coaches compare him to Donovan in his general approach to the game.
Senior co-captain and preseason All-BIG EAST selection Larry Day (Amesbury, Mass.) will see the majority of the playing time this season behind the plate. Last season, Day led the Huskies with 76 hits and 51 RBIs en route to being named to the All-BIG EAST third team. He also finished fourth with a .332 batting average and was fourth with 12 doubles. Look for Day to once again have another outstanding season and hit in the middle of the order as he serves as one of the unquestioned leaders of the team. Junior transfer Brad Olt (Branford, Conn.) will serve as the primary backup catcher to Day. Although entering the season as the number two catcher, Olt’s catch and throw ability combined with his production at the plate will allow him to challenge as a threat to be in the lineup. Freshman Doug Elliot (Rocky Hill, Conn.) and sophomore Mike Dwyer (Yorktown Heights, N.Y.) will be used primarily as bullpen catchers but will compete for playing time. Mahoney may also be used behind the dish because of his familiarity with the position. Mahoney was drafted out of high school as a catcher and spent the fall at the position.
Having lost a total of 285 out of a possible 510 innings, the Husky pitching staff will feature somewhat of a different look at the beginning of the season. Although over half of last year’s production is gone, the UConn coaching staff feels comfortable with how their rotation will shape up. Senior southpaw Rich Sirois (Ipswich, Mass.) is a leading candidate for one of the weekend rotation slots. Last season, Sirois started 13 games for the Huskies and finished the season with a 6-3 overall record and was seventh on the team with a 3.64 earned run average. He is the most experienced hurler and is battle tested after three previous successful seasons on the hill. Look for Sirois to serve as the leader of the staff. Junior Mike Tarsi (Danbury, Conn.), another lefty on the pitching staff, will also be slated into the weekend rotation. Tarsi saw action in 13 games last year and finished with a 3-1 record and a miniscule 2.38 earned run average. Tarsi is a pro prospect and a power lefty that has good movement on his pitches. With the third weekend slot left to fill, freshman right-hander Robert Van Woert (Johnson City, N.Y.) may be the answer the Huskies are looking for. Van Woert has an extremely consistent arm and is the most polished freshman on the team. He features three different pitches he can throw for strikes while his velocity and strength improves as the game goes on. Senior left-hander Brendan McGinn (Tolland, Conn.) is another candidate for a weekend starting role after redshirting last season. McGinn is a salty veteran that has a lot of BIG EAST experience. He is the epitome of a crafty lefty as he works off his change and is able to spot his fastball.
If one of the aforementioned players earns the final weekend spot, freshman left-hander Greg Nappo (Madison, Conn.) may be in line for a midweek starting role. Nappo throws in the upper 80s, features a good curve and is described by the coaches as the freshman with the best pure stuff. Sophomore right-hander John Folino (Quincy, Mass.) is another candidate for a starting role after a freshman year in which he started two games and made three other appearances. Like Nappo, Folino also throws in the upper 80s. He has a lot of upside, but needs to become more consistent to be more effective for the Huskies this season. Freshman Dusty Odenbach (Rochester, N.Y.) could also see time as a starter this season. Odenbach boasts a good curve and mechanics, and has tremendous upside.
Senior left-hander Ted Garry (Rochester, Minn.) will serve as the Huskies’ top reliever this season. In 18 appearances last year, Garry posted a 3-2 record and was second on the team with a 2.10 earned run average. He allowed just seven earned runs in 30.0 innings last year while walking two and striking out 22. Garry is just the fearless and gritty type of player Penders feels comfortable about bringing into any situation. When not playing the infield, Karl will be called upon for middle relief. Karl posted a 2.81 ERA last year and was 1-0 in 17 appearances last season. He features a power arm and has a very good curve ball. Freshman Will Musson (Wethersfield, Conn.) possesses a good split finger and is not afraid of going after hitters. Look for him to compete for relief innings as well. Sophomore David Bodge (Taunton, Mass.) saw limited action last season as a freshman, but earned valuable experience at the same time. He features a good slider, split finger and is battle tested in tight situations. Turgeon is expected to begin the season as the team’s primary closer. He throws in the low 90s and has explosive stuff, including a very good breaking ball.
Freshman Trent DeLazzer (Cypress, Calif.) is another newcomer that should see innings in a relief role. DeLazzer is a tall right-hander that has a good split finger and is very difficult to hit because he locates downhill very well. Fellow freshman Jason Kitchen (Burtonsville, Md.) features a multi-pitch arsenal which includes a very effective breaking ball and a good swagger. He is another pitcher that is fearless on the hill. After missing much of 2006 with season ending Tommy John surgery, sophomore David Erickson (Stratford, Conn.) should enter the 2007 season healthy. Look for Erickson to slowly work his way back into the bullpen and eventually become very effective for the Huskies. Freshmen Stephen Blumetti (Union, N.J.), Doug Jennings (Pompton Plains, N.J.), David Ploof (Fairport, N.Y.) and sophomore Dennis Accomando (Monroe, Conn.) round out the 2007 UConn pitching staff. Look for the quartet to fight for innings and compete for appearances this season.
If the Huskies are to achieve their third straight 30-win season, UConn will have to fight through a very difficult schedule. UConn opens the season at Southern Conference foe Western Carolina for a three-game series before traveling to Southern Alabama for a second three-game series. UConn opens BIG EAST play Mar. 16 with a three-game series at Seton Hall. The Huskies play their home opener Mar. 21 by welcoming in-state rival Quinnipiac to J.O. Christian Field. UConn next hosts St. John’s for three games Mar. 23-25 in its BIG EAST home opener. The Huskies also make league road trips to Rutgers (Apr. 5-7), Cincinnati (Apr. 20-22) and Notre Dame (May 17-19.) UConn will host BIG EAST foes South Florida (Mar. 30-Apr. 1), Louisville (Apr. 13-15), Georgetown (Apr. 27-29) and West Virginia (May 11-13).