The UConn baseball team has its opening day this weekend, starting its 2016 season with hopes to reach the NCAA tournament for the fourth time in the last seven years.
This weekend’s matchup, which marks the beginning of head coach Jim Penders’ 13th season with team, will be the first of 17 straight away games for the Huskies before they have a home game. This is primarily due to weather in the northeast, but will give the team a good test early on before an easier home schedule later in the year.
The Huskies will travel to San Antonio to take on the University of Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners (Conference-USA) in their first ever series against each other. Starting with a 7 p.m. matchup on Friday night, the teams will play again at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday before closing with a 1 p.m. Sunday showdown.
Interestingly enough, UTSA is one of five teams on this year’s schedule that UConn will be playing on the baseball diamond for the first time ever. The Roadrunners are coming off of a 33-25 record last season, along with a 17-13 record in conference, so they are sure to be a good test to start the season.
Coach Penders has five preseason All-Conference selections on his roster this year, including pitcher Anthony Kay, outfielder Jack Sundberg, first baseman Bobby Melley, infielder Willy Yahn and infielder Joe DeRoche-Duffin.
The five will be critical to the team’s success this season, as most of the team consists of underclassmen who will surely need to step up as the season rolls along if the team is going to succeed come tournament time.
Coach Penders has suggested that freshman Zac Susi will play a big role this year as catcher.
“Zac Susi has definitely established himself as a guy with a really strong arm and can receive well. He’s got to work on taking charge a bit more, but I think that’ll come with time and a bit more repetition,” Penders said.
“It’s a lot to ask a freshman to do in taking over for Max McDowell, who was sensational for us for three years, but Alex LeFevre has been great in kind of mentoring for him and Alex has been challenging for playing time too, so it should be a good year for the both of them.”
On media day, Penders was also looking forward to conference play as it gives the team the best idea on whether or not it can compete in the NCAA tourney. The American is one of the three best conferences in collegiate baseball, according to RPI rating, and follows the ACC and SEC in level of talent around the country.
Coach Penders heaped a lot of praise on the American saying, “It’s a very tough baseball league and that means if you finish in the top half-like last year-you’re going to the NCAA tournament, and those [ACC, SEC, American] are the only three conferences that can say that. We don’t aim to finish in the top half, we aim to win the championship and we’re going to be focused on that. But it is nice to know that our league has gotten a lot more respect in the baseball front.”
That is the kind of confident long-term thinking you like to hear from your coach if you are the Huskies, but before any tough conference games are played, this weekend’s opening day matchup against UTSA will surely be on UConn’s mind ahead of anything else.
Chris Hanna is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.