June 13, 2013
Editor’s Note: Chris Jones is the play-by-play voice for UConn baseball on WHUS-91.7 FM.
By Chris Jones
The UConn baseball team came into the 2013 season with a lot of unknowns.
Who would play first base?
Who would be in the starting rotation with Anthony Marzi?
Who would get the start at the hot corner?
And what was the freshmen class going to bring to this team?
Still, the goal of the season was always the same -- get back to the NCAA Tournament.
At the start of the season that is exactly what UConn looked like it was going to do. The Huskies jumped out to an 11-6 record in their non-conference slate of games and were up to #16 in the RPI rankings. The Huskies were led in the early season on the mound by redshirt sophomore Carson Cross who started the season 5-0. Cross came into the season as the Saturday weekend starter, but because of his consistency and dependability he became the Friday guy, who opens a series, for the Huskies a few weeks into the BIG ESAT Conference season.
During the early part of the season the Huskies beat quality teams in Indiana, Troy, Ohio State and took two out of three from Sam Houston State. Indiana made it to the College World Series, Troy and Sam Houston played in the NCAA tournament and Ohio State just missed the field of 64.
For the Huskies in the early part of the season it was Eric Yavarone, Vinny Siena and LJ Mazzilli that the offense relied on.
Sophomore Yavarone’s 2013 season started just as his freshmen year did as he was on fire. The start included a nine-game hitting streak with nine RBI for the Huskies. During this stretch, Yavarone was able to come up with big hits in a variety of situations including a bunch two-strike and two-out base hits to help the Huskies. Yavarone would end the 2013 season with a .275 batting average, 60 hits with five doubles, 26 RBI and eight stolen bases for the UConn left fielder.
Siena, a freshman, started off his college career in impressive fashion as he moved from shortstop at Amity Regional High School to third base at UConn. Siena committed his fair share of errors throughout the season, but really showed improvement down the stretch with his glove. Siena really impressed during the whole season with his bat as he started the season with 16 hits in his first 24 at-bats (.380 average) in his first nine games. Siena would end the season with a .302 average and second on the team with 77 hits and 35 RBI.
Senior All-American second basemen LJ Mazzilli decided to come back for his senior season after being drafted in the ninth round by the Minnesota Twins in 2012 and came into 2013 focused on improving his defense, but also brought a leadership factor that LJ was starting to develop. The bat was there as it always has for Mazzilli as he started off the 2013 season hot as well with 21 hits and 10 RBI in the first 12 games of the season.
He finished the season with team leading .354 average, 92 hits, 6 home runs and 51 RBI with 29 stolen bases. Mazzilli was rewarded by being selected in the fourth round of the 2013 MLB Draft by the New York Mets.
After the hot start for the Huskies there were a few bumps in the road for the Huskies during mid-week game as the Huskies squeaked by Quinnipiac on a walk-off triple from Bobby Melley and then lost to Boston College and Yale.
This, for me, was probably the turning point in the season for Connecticut as the runs didn’t come as easily for the Huskies from this point going forward, but they were able to rely on their pitching to get out to an 8-4 conference record after a sweep of Villanova.
Marzi had a rough start to the 2013 season, but the start of the BIG EAST season is when he started to get everything going. Marzi picked up back-to-back wins against St. Johns and Villanova with his start against the Wildcats being his best strikeout-wise as Marzi fanned 12 Wildcats hitters in seven innings of work.
After Villanova, UConn was able to defeat Fairfield in the mid-week, which pushed their record to a season best 10 games over 500 (23-13). The stretch to follow would be rough for the Huskies as they lost 11 of their next 12 conference games to fall from second in the BIG EAST standings all the way down to eighth place.
The Huskies struggled with the bats, especially with runners in scoring position. UConn scored four runs or more just three times during that stretch. The Huskies played six games during the 12-game stretch that they lost by three runs or fewer including a weekend against USF where the Huskies lost two games by one run and a three-run loss in 15 innings.
One of the good things about the losing streak was that the Huskies were able to find out who their everyday catcher was in freshman Max McDowell. McDowell really started to swing the bat for power during this stretch, but he also started to really go on a run of throwing out runners on the base paths and knocking balls down behind the plate. McDowell ended the season batting .257 with four homers and 25 RBI along while throwing out 15 of 76 base runners.
Senior captain Billy Ferriter started to get the bat going during April and May as he struggled during the middle of the year. As the weather heated up, so did Ferriter. He hit .286 for the season with 75 hits, including 15 doubles. Ferriter also stole 17 bases to give him 100 career steals for his Connecticut career, which is a program record.
After ending the regular season by taking two out of three games at George Mason in a non-conference season,
UConn needed to win the BIG EAST Tournament in order to advance to the NCAA Tournament. That’s exactly what the team did behind the team motto of “Dead Men Walking” and with their loose attitude was able to play their best baseball of the year. The slogan came from the title of a book written by Jim Penders’ uncle – noted college basketball coach Tom Penders – “Dead Coach Walking”.
The Huskies run through the BIG EAST Tournament was a total team effort as the Huskies got solid starting pitching, the bats came up with big time hits and the bullpen dominated as they did all season long. For the Huskies it was satisfying to beat the four teams that they lost those 11 of 12 games in the BIG EAST regular season.
Ferriter shined in the BIG EAST Tournament going 9-18 and had some clutch hits for the Huskies in the Tournament -- none bigger than his 12th inning RBI single off Nick Burdi of Louisville in the opening round leading UConn win 3-2. Ferriter would win the Jack Kaiser Most Outstanding Player Award as the MVP of the Tournament.
Out of the bullpen David Mahoney, Dan Feehan and Pat Butler were the go to guys in the BIG EAST Tournament -- but Stephen Catalina, Ryan Moore and Will Jolin also had solid numbers as well for the ballclub all season with Jolin’s 3.95 ERA being the highest out of those players. Moore led the way with a 2.29 ERA in 16 appearances. Mahoney broke the single season record for appearances from Scott Oberg by making 34 appearances and registering a 2.36 ERA. Feehan also made history by making the most appearances in a Connecticut uniform passing David Erickson with now 96 appearances. The staff as a whole had an ERA of 3.42 for the season.
By winning their third BIG EAST Tournament championship, and first since 1994, the Huskies advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four seasons. The Huskies made noise in the Blacksburg, Va., Regional by knocking off top-seeded Virginia Tech in the first game.
UConn followed it up with a solid performance against second-seeded Oklahoma as both teams squared off in a classic but the Huskies fell short in 12 innings to the Sooners, 5-3. The next day UConn was eliminated by the Hokies and their 2013 season was over - but not before salvaging the season and making it a great last few weeks.
For the Huskies they had a great start and end to the season but struggled in the late stages of the BIG EAST season. As Coach Penders said after the BIG EAST Championship, “This is a team I will never forget, they won a BIG EAST Championship which is something I’ve always dreamed of.”
For the senior class it is the first time that a senior class can say that they went to three NCAA Tournaments – the first UConn senior class to do that since 1961.
The Huskies will have to replace eight seniors who all made contributions throughout their career especially in the 2013 season, three position players (Mazzilli, Ferriter and Paul) and five relievers (Feehan, Jolin, Moore, Catalina and Butler) will be moving on.
Quickly looking toward next season UConn has a nice building block coming back.
Melley, Siena, McDowell and Bryan Daniello all proved themselves as freshman. Melley was a solid defensive first baseman after switching from a catcher in high school. Melley hit 283 with 68 hits including nine doubles, two triples and 28 RBI this season. Before getting injured in the final regular season game of the season, Daniello hit .209 in 52 games played. He had six doubles, one triple and two homers for the Huskies with 24 runs batted in.
Yavarone and Testani will be back as juniors and Verdi was draft eligible, but will be back for the Huskies next season as well as a senior leader. Testani was very good defensively in right field for the Huskies this year while Verdi leadership and strong play down the stretch really helped the Huskies throughout the year.
Lack of depth was an issue throughout the season for the Huskies. In the latter stages of the season there were only three players that the Huskies could go to off the bench. Next year with Jack Sundberg, Connor David and the freshman class coming in, the Huskies should have plenty of options when guys start to wear down in the middle of the season or players go into a slump.
The starting rotation could be the same from the last few weeks of the season with Cross, Marzi and Tabakman. Carson was drafted in the 24th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates, but can also return for his senior year with the Huskies. Their experience and past performances makes it look like this is the strongest part of the team.
Tabakman really impressed with big time starts against Rutgers in the BIG EAST semifinals and a nine- inning performance against Oklahoma in the NCAA Tournament. Tabakman split time in the bullpen and in the rotation. I believe he is a perfect Sunday starter for the Huskies but will have to see where he fits come the fall.
The bullpen will be a big question mark to start the season as Mahoney and Max Slade are the only player who pitched 10 appearances or more out of the pen who are returning.
With a solid recruiting class coming in and Ryan Radue, Mike Niego and Devin Over coming back off injuries that should help the bullpen depth.
The strength of the incoming recruiting class was shown during the MLB Draft where three UConn incoming freshmen were drafted and will have until July 15 to sign a pro contract or head to Storrs and play college ball.
As players settle into their summer ball seasons the future looks bright for the Huskies but for now the 2013 squad will bask in the glory of winning the final BIG EAST Conference championship in any sport, something that can be cherished for a lifetime.