College baseball season is here. This Friday, the UConn Huskies will be back on the diamond, opening the 2016 campaign against the University of Texas at San Antonio Roadrunners, who are hosting UConn for a three-game series. UConn looks to improve on their 35-25 effort from last season, which ended after losing to East Carolina in the American Athletic Conference tournament semifinals.
Coach Jim Penders, in his 13th season at the helm, has a strong core coming back for the 2016 season, despite losing Carson Cross, Vinny Siena and Max McDowell- three draft picks from last June's MLB Draft who signed with major league teams.
This year's Huskies are fairly balanced in age, with 13 freshmen, seven sophomores, nine juniors and eight seniors. Many important players are returning, such as third baseman Willy Yahn, shortstop Bryan Daniello and starting pitcher Anthony Kay. Despite the experience returning to the fold this season, there are a few freshmen Coach Penders tabbed as important to the team, including pitcher P.J. Poulin and catcher Zac Susi, who will both be getting solid playing time at the beginning of the season.
Despite the departure of ace Carson Cross, a 14th round draft pick of the St. Louis Cardinals, Penders has another lefty ready to take the ball every Friday in Anthony Kay. Kay pitched for the United States Collegiate National Team last summer, and Penders says he has gained confidence from the experience.
Kay, who was the Saturday starter last year, led UConn starters with a 2.02 ERA in 100.0 innings pitched, notching 96 strikeouts against 25 walks, each second-best on the staff. He was also named to the Golden Spikes Award preseason watch list- an award which goes to the top amateur baseball player in the country.
Kay knows he can't try to be Cross.
"I'm gonna try and go out and pitch the way I pitch, and not try and pitch like Carson, but try and pitch with the same mentality as him," he said.
Right-handers Anthony Zapata, a junior, and sophomore William Montgomerie will round out the weekend rotation. Coach Penders says freshman righty Ronnie Rossamando will be right behind the two of them challenging for a weekend spot.
Jack Sundberg, a senior captain who has manned centerfield for the Huskies for much of the past two seasons, is excited about the strength of the American Athletic Conference field. Houston and Tulane should be top-25 teams with South Florida and East Carolina forming a solid second tier with UConn.
"It's awesome coming out every weekend knowing it's going to be a battle, he said. "We want to play against the best of the best."
The Husky offense should be explosive this season; with designated hitter Joe DeRoche-Duffin selected as the best power hitter in the league by Baseball America, and first baseman Bobby Melley the best pure hitter.
Jack Sundberg will continue to "set the table" at the lead-off spot this season, after hitting for a .288 average last year as well as converting on 33 of his 38 stolen base attempts, good enough to lead the team. Coach Penders says the offense has pleasantly surprised him throughout the preseason, especially sophomore third baseman Willy Yahn and junior second baseman Aaron Hill.
The Huskies will spend their first month on the road, with their home opener at J.O. Christian Field on March 22 against the Yale Bulldogs. They open the conference schedule April 1 with a series against the Tulane Green Wave, also at J.O Christian Field.