The UConn baseball team hosted their second fall exhibition game of the year on Saturday against UConn Avery Point, in what was, for all intents and purposes, a controlled scrimmage.
Player substitution rules were thrown out the window, the game was 10 innings long and UConn still got their last ups in the bottom of the final frame, where they scored the last three runs of their 14-2 victory.
“It’s a program that's really important to us, we've had so any good players from Avery Point, so I can't imagine not wanting to play [them] when we have the opportunity,” head coach Jim Penders said. “We want those guys thinking about coming to UConn.”
It wasn’t much of a contest between Avery Point and the Storrs campus, but the biggest competition on the field was going on between Huskies.
“It raises the competition level because everybody sees that you got freshmen, you got Schwartz, you got Kyler coming out and hitting the ball hard and everyone sees that there are guys coming for your spots,” outfielder Michael Woodworth said. “Everyone has to raise their focus and raise their competition level a little bit more, and it makes us better.”
UConn currently has 46 players on the current roster and must get down to 35 by the start of the season in February. This means that every second is valuable for the coaching staff to evaluate the multitude of new faces.
“We're getting to see a lot, you're seeing a lot of freshmen either rise to the occasion or crap down their legs, and if they're crapping down their legs in October, they're probably not gonna have a role in April,” Penders said.
Quiet in his first two appearances at J.O. Christian Field, heralded freshman Kyler Fedko, brother of sophomore Christian Fedko, officially introduced himself to the Hook C faithful when he annihilated a ball over the left field hedges in the sixth inning.
“He's got a lot of power, he has to clean up a lot of things, he's got a lot to work on too, but the ball makes a different sound off his bat,” Penders said.
Another one of the newcomers that has impressed Penders so far this season has been freshman Will Lucas from Fairfield Prep.
Lucas made an impact at the plate by driving a bases-clearing double deep to center in the sixth, on the bump pitching a one-two-three tenth inning, and even on the infield, catching the Avery Point leadoff man stealing with what Penders called one of the fastest tags he’s seen at second base since Nick Ahmed was in Storrs.
Already-established UConn players definitely seem to be rounding into form as well, although it was hard to tell given the competition level.
Thad Phillips started at third base and vaporized a pitch into the woods over the bullpen in left field, while center fielder Michael Woodworth led off the game with a home run to the deepest part of the park, and followed it up with a double in the next inning.
“This summer up in Keane I worked on getting good pitches and good counts and it worked today,” Woodworth said.
This fall scrimmage reminded the outfielder of his time at Sierra College, where fall scrimmages were a huge part of the experience playing baseball there, with the ideal central California weather allowing year-round play.
“We would play fall games against other schools every week so it's nice to get back to that, because I love doing that,” Woodworth said. “There's really no rules in Juco so we would play as many games as we could and we would always play against good competition, and it was a lot of good energy.”
The Huskies have one more exhibition to go before the offseason moves into the strength and conditioning phase, next Friday at 2:30 p.m. against Academy Baseball of Canada. It’ll be another opportunity for the coaching staff to evaluate the crazy amount of talent they have on hand this fall.
“We tell our guys that you're being evaluated every day in your real lives, you're gonna be evaluated on every pitch out here,” Penders said. “We'll just be continuing to do that, every opportunity between the white lines is a good one.”
Luke Swanson is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.