The 2015 UConn Baseball team reached the American Athletic Conference Tournament semifinals but fell short of an NCAA Tournament bid despite having a lot of talent. The Huskies’ semifinal loss to East Carolina that year marked the end of a some very talented players’ collegiate careers.
Gone were Blake Davey, a junior college transfer who hit an even .300 and played solid in the outfield, as well as two-thirds of the weekend rotation in Carson Cross and Jordan Tabakman. Starting catcher Max McDowell and second baseman Vinny Siena, who hit .362 as a junior also moved on.
Cross, McDowell, and Siena were each drafted and signed professional contracts. UConn had to replace 327 games played from position players and 210 innings from pitchers.
Thanks to the growth of returning players and the emergence of some newcomers, the 2016 Huskies were able to have a more successful season than last, winning 38 games, their first AAC Tournament crown, and reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013.
We’ve got a few awards for the best performances of this past season.
Anthony Kay, a junior and the 31st overall pick in this week's MLB Draft, consistently dominated. Kay had a 2.65 ERA and a workhorse mentality, shown in his three starts in 10 days between the final regular season series and the AAC Tournament. The lefty also had some of his best performances against the top teams on the schedule, Tulane and Houston. He will leave Storrs with the all-time strikeout record and was unquestionably the team's MVP.
Bobby Melley, the slugger from Barnstable, Massachusetts, had an excellent senior season. He finished tied for second all-time in games played in a UConn uniform at 241, one behind all-time leader Billy Ferriter. He is third all-time in hits and doubles and tied for fourth in RBI. He added power as a senior, going from one home run as a junior to 11 as a senior. Melley is one of the best hitters to ever wear a Husky uniform.
Willy Yahn, a sophomore infielder, stepped up in a big way to replace the previous season's lost production. He was one of two players, the other being shortstop Bryan Daniello, to start every game for UConn this season.
Yahn was the conference leader in hits and led the team in batting average, hitting .319. He was remarkably consistent at the plate, notching a hit in 51 of the Huskies' 63 games. He had three hitting streaks of 10+ games and had 26 multi-hit games. He also had four hits in a game four times. While Yahn did not have home run power, he used the gaps to his advantage, leading the team in doubles (20) and triples (4).
Freshman of the Year
Zac Susi, a freshman catcher from Southington, is one of the most underrated players on the team, as catchers typically are. He had modest offensive production, hitting .250 with only eight doubles. With Susi, the growth was game-to-game. His approach at the plate got better every day and he finished with 21 walks to 26 strikeouts in 53 games, 47 of which were starts.
Susi’s biggest strength was consistency in the field. He played the entirety of 40 games and appeared in 13 more, allowing only four passed balls. He had a fielding percentage of .991, second to outfielder John Toppa among players with more than 50 chances. Coach Penders has a good backstop for years to come.
Freshman Pitcher of the Year
Tim Cate was also integral to the pitching rotation. He went from no role in the first two weekends of the season to wrestling the Saturday starting role from Wills Montgomerie and starting the opening game of the NCAA Tournament for the Huskies. Cate was 23rd nationally in strikeouts per nine innings, at 11.04. He struck out 101 batters in 82.1 innings.
The Kyra Sedgwick “Closer” Award
Pat Ruotolo, a junior from Peabody, Massachusetts, was the one arm Penders could rely on to get stops at the end of games. He was 12/12 in save opportunities and was particularly dominant in the postseason, coming in for multiple multi-inning saves. He had an ERA of 2.25 in 25 appearances, throwing 40.0 innings. Batters only hit .224 against him and he had a WHIP of 1.10. He has a deceptive delivery and a fastball that can reach 96-97 MPH.
The Huskies will be missing their shortstop, first baseman, and two-thirds of their outfield next season, in addition to Anthony Kay and Ruotolo likely leaving for the draft, but Penders will have a solid base from which he will build the 2017 team.