Sept. 23, 2013
STORRS, Conn. - As the fall ball campaign rolls on, the UConn baseball team celebrated its most recent season and its past on Sunday (Sept. 22) afternoon at J.O. Christian Field. Husky skipper Jim Penders honored the 2013 season award winners prior to the annual alumni game, which drew players and coaches from all eras of UConn baseball back to the diamond.
Before the current crop of Huskies took down the alumni, 9-0, in a friendly exhibition, Penders handed out some hardware from UConn's decorated 2013 season, which saw it win the BIG EAST Tournament and advance to the NCAA Regionals.
Rising senior Tom Verdi (Warwick, R.I.) was honored with The Hirschhorn Foundation Award, presented to the player who achieved exceptional mental toughness, overcame numerous setbacks and transformed adversity to opportunity. Verdi hit .261 in 2013, tallying 11 extra base hits with 21 RBIs and 21 stolen bases. A consistent presence in the two-hole and at shortstop for the Huskies, he was named to the All-BIG EAST Tournament Team, hitting safely in each of UConn's four games and driving in two runs against Notre Dame in the title game.
The Donald "Dee" Rowe Scholar-Athlete Award was presented to recent graduate right hander Will Jolin (Guilford, Conn.). A two-time All-BIG EAST Academic Team member, Jolin tossed 27.1 innings in 2013 for the Huskies, compiling a 3.95 ERA and 18 strikeouts. The environmental engineering major also earned an SEC Academic Honor Roll nod as a member of the Florida Gators in 2009.
A pair of rising junior pitchers, David Mahoney (Colchester, Conn.) and Jordan Tabakman (Pompton Plains, N.J.), were honored with the Mrs. Mary Dropo Unsung Hero Award. Mahoney led the BIG EAST with 34 appearances in 2013, posting a 2.36 ERA and two saves in 34.1 innings. The southpaw threw 5.1 scoreless innings in UConn's BIG EAST Championship run, earning All-Tournament Team honors. He also tossed 2.1 scoreless in the NCAA Blacksburg Regional. Tabakman was a jack of all trades in the UConn pitching corps, making 22 appearances and seven starts. He finished tied for the team-high with five saves in 66.2 innings of work, and totaled a 6-2 record, 2.57 ERA and 40:21 strikeout to walk ratio. The righty earned the win in UConn's BIG EAST semifinals victory over Rutgers, going seven scoreless with six strikeouts.
The James Allen Pitching Award went to right-hander Carson Cross (Brentwood, N.H.), a rising junior who emerged as the UConn ace in 2013. In 16 starts for the Huskies, the All-BIG EAST second team member tossed 110.2 innings, fanning 86 batters while holding opponents to a .246 average. Cross finished the year with a 9-4 record and a 2.44 ERA. He was selected in the 24th round of the MLB First-Year Player Draft in June by the Pittsburgh Pirates, but will return to UConn for his junior season in 2014.
Last but not least, Penders and the UConn staff doled out the Lawrence R. Panciera MVP Award to LJ Mazzilli (Greenwich, Conn.). Mazzilli's 2013 was among the most decorated for a UConn baseball player ever, as he was named to multiple All-America teams before becoming a 4th round pick of the New York Mets. The second baseman hit .354 for the Huskies with 26 extra-base hits, six home runs, 51 RBIs and 29 stolen bases. Mazzilli's BIG EAST-best 92 total hits gave him 295 in his career, second-most in UConn history.
Following the awards ceremony was the annual alumni game, which got off to a special start. Former Husky pitcher Mike Galati ('98) threw out the game's ceremonial first pitch, firing a strike to his former catcher, Penders. Galati's return to J.O. Christian Field was his first since receiving a successful liver transplant this past June.
The alumni lineup for the contest was cobbled together by its de factor manager, Class of 87's Jack Hurley. Also present in the alumni dugout with former UConn manager Andy Baylock, who skippered the Huskies from 1980-2003 and currently serves on the UConn football coaching staff. Members of the lineup included White Sox prospect Kevin Vance ('11), former Baylock charges Mick Buckmir ('87), Clark Caudill ('00) and Paul Funk ('93) and 2013 captain Billy Ferriter.
Other notable alumni in attendance included Mike Olt ('10), one of the top prospects in baseball as a member of the Cubs organization, and Matt Barnes ('11), one of the top young pitchers in the Boston Red Sox farm system. The entirety of the UConn coaching staff, including Penders ('94), Jeff Hourigan ('05), Joshua MacDonald ('06) and Chris Podeszwa ('93), were also in attendance as both coaches and alumni.
The UConn fall season continues through the coming weeks, including a game with the Ontario Nationals on Saturday and the Blue-White World Series, which runs from Oct. 4 to Oct. 6. Both events are open to the public and media.