It’s time to rejoice! It’s been a long and cold off-season, but college baseball starts up again this Friday with games all over the nation. Months after winning the American Athletic Conference championship and bowing out early in the NCAA tournament, UConn baseball is finally back in action this weekend as they take on the UMass-Lowell Riverhawks down in Port St. Lucie, Florida.
The Huskies, who will be playing down at the New York Mets’ spring training facilities for the second time in three years, haven’t won an Opening Day game since 2012, when they shutout the Indiana Hoosiers 8-0. This weekend will include the first four of 19 games away from home to start the season for UConn, who don’t play at J.O. Christian Field until March 24. However, going on the road has not been a problem for the Huskies in recent history. The team has the best record in the nation with 50 wins away from home over the last two seasons.
Missing from the Huskies’ lineup will be junior co-captain Willy Yahn. The third baseman re-injured his left hand and will be out for the first several weeks of the season. A fixture in the UConn lineup since his freshman year, Yahn’s clutch at the plate could be sorely missed given the team’s youth and inexperience at the collegiate level. Freshmen Conor Moriarty or Anthony Prato, both of whom are highly touted infielders, could fill in for Yahn’s place at the hot corner this weekend, and will likely do so until his return.
Senior co-captain Aaron Hill is confident in the young recruits, however, and suggests that their work ethic will help them transition into playing immediately.
“That whole freshman class, I’m just impressed with,” Hill said. “They work so hard every day, they’re in the barn every day. Lifting weights every day. They just go after it, they know how to work hard every day and that’s what we need.”
The four-game series will take place over three days with a doubleheader on Saturday. The opener on Friday will begin at 3 p.m. at Field No. 5 at the New York Mets’ spring training complex and will feature sophomore Tim Cate on the mound for UConn. Cate earned Preseason First Team All-Conference and Co-Pitcher of the Year honors earlier this week and will look to start his second campaign with the Huskies with a win over Nick Kuzia, the Riverhawks’ probable starter.
Both games on Saturday will be played at Tradition Field and are expected to begin at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., respectively. Wills Montgomerie is likely to start the morning game for UConn, facing off against Luke Tomczyk, while freshman Mason Feole will get his first career start in the afternoon game. The series will close out back at Field No. 5 on Sunday morning at 11 a.m., with Doug Domnarski likely getting the start on the mound for UConn.
After the loss of standout lefty Anthony Kay to the MLB Draft, the Huskies need someone to take his place, if that’s even possible. Feole is a promising southpaw standing at 6’2” who was named 2016 Rhode Island Gatorade Player of the Year. Given his skill set, the freshman pitcher could feature in quite a few weekend games this season if he stands out early on, and just maybe develop into something really special for the Huskies.
“(Feole) has an electric left arm and an electric personality,” head coach Jim Penders said. “He’s a very dynamic kid on the mound. I love watching him compete. He’s just got to figure out how to do (collegiate baseball). He’s a guy who could potentially burst on the scene as a starter.”
With the pre-season officially coming to close on Friday, all eyes will once again be back on the UConn baseball team as they look to repeat as conference champs and perhaps make an even bigger splash in the NCAA tournament. However, this season will be a long and tumultuous journey and that journey starts this weekend against UMass-Lowell.