Virginia Tech’s opening game of NCAA Regionals will be against Big East Champion UConn on Friday at 5:30pm at English Field. Today we’ll take a closer look at the Huskies and their improbable run to the Big East Championship and the NCAA Tournament.
Before last weekend, UConn had no chance to make the field of 64. Here’s a look at their numbers this season…
Big East: 9-15
The Huskies didn’t have the record or the computer numbers to make the NCAA Tournament, but they got some great pitching performances in the Big East Tournament, and here they are as the #4 seed in the Blacksburg Regional. They knocked off Notre Dame 8-1 in the Big East Championship, and they dispatched Louisville 3-2 in the opening game. They also defeated Regional Host Indiana early in the season, so this is a team that is capable of coming into Blacksburg and winning.
Since taking over as UConn’s head coach in 2004, Jim Penders has done an outstanding job. He has a career record of 320-211-4, and he has had a winning record in all but two seasons at his alma mater. His uncle is famous college basketball coach Tom Penders, who won 648 games during his career.
UConn baseball has rapidly progressed under Penders over the past few seasons. They went 48-16 in 2010 and made the NCAA Regionals. In 2011 they went 45-20-1, won the Big East and advanced to Super Regionals, where they were eliminated by South Carolina. Penders is a three-time Big East Coach of the Year.
You don’t make it to postseason baseball without good pitching. The Huskies have had a solid group this year, sporting a team ERA of 3.46.
Carson Cross, r-So., RHP: Cross is likely to get the ball against Virginia Tech in game one. The sophomore has had an outstanding career thus far. He sports an 8-4 record with a 2.50 ERA in 15 starts this season. Opponents are hitting just .245 against him.
Anthony Marzi, Jr., LHP: In 16 starts this year, Marzi is 5-6 with a 3.87 ERA. Tech is unlikely to face him this weekend.
Brian Ward, Jr., LHP: Ward has started 10 games this year, going 2-3 with a 3.59 ERA. He has been injured and hasn’t pitched recently.
Christian Colletti, Fr., LHP: Colletti has 11 appearances and 9 starts. He sports a 3-2 record with a 5.86 ERA.
Jordan Tabakman, r-So., RHP: Tabakman has 21 appearances and six starts this year. The UNC transfer is 6-2 with a 2.50 ERA. He had a big start in the Big East Tournament, and he’s a reliable bullpen arm for the Huskies.
UConn has a deep and reliable bullpen, if the stats are a good indicator.
Pat Butler, Sr., RHP: 22 games, 3-1, 2.23 ERA
Ryan Moore, Sr., RHP: 16 games, 1-0, 2.29 ERA
Stephen Catalina, Sr., RHP, 13 games, 1-0, 2.33 ERA
David Mahoney, r-So., LHP: 31 games, 2-2, 2.53 ERA
Dan Feehan, Sr., RHP: 23 games, 2-4, 3.62 ERA
Max Slade, So., RHP: 12 games, 1-0, 3.80 ERA
Will Jolin, r-Sr., RHP: 18 games, 0-1, 4.05 ERA
Jim Penders clearly has a lot of experience in his bullpen.
Hitting has held UConn back this season. Here is how they rank in college baseball in several hitting categories as compared to Virginia Tech.
Average: UConn 167th, VT 60th
Runs: UConn 108th, VT 31st
Hits: UConn 80th, VT 36th
Doubles: UConn 179th, VT 15th
Triples: UConn 97th, 80th
Homers: UConn 147th, VT 12th
Slugging Pct: 196th, VT 27th
Keep in mind that the Hokies have much better offensive numbers despite playing a much tougher schedule than the Huskers. However, UConn does have plenty of speed. They finished 13th in stolen bases, while VT finished just 164th. The Huskies also finished 33rd in walks, while Tech was 190th. The Huskies clearly rely on small ball, while Tech relies on power hitting.
Second baseman L.J. Mazilli is UConn’s best player. (Yes, he’s the son of son of former Major League Baseball player, coach and manager, Lee Mazzilli.) He was drafted in the ninth round by the Twins last year, but chose to return for his senior season. He is hitting .364 with six homers and 49 RBIs. He walks more than he strikes out, and he has 28 stolen bases in 32 attempts. It’s important that the Hokies keep him off the base paths, because he can turn a walk into a run in a hurry.
At 5-9, 182, Vinny Siena isn’t your typical third baseman. However, the true freshman finished second on the team with a .302 average. Senior outfielder Billy Ferriter hit .285, and he also stole 25 bases in 36 attempts. Overall, only three players on this UConn team hit better than .271. The Hokies have five players in their regular starting lineup who hit over .300.
Mazilli leads UConn with six homers this year, while nobody else has more than four. They will try to produce runs the old fashioned way with bunting, base running and timely singles.