Snow might be on the ground in Storrs, but things are heating up in Florida. The UConn baseball team will be down in the Sunshine State starting this weekend to begin their season. On Friday, Feb. 18, the Huskies will face the University of South Florida Bulls to play ball for the first time this year.
UConn hasn’t played USF since 2019, dropping two out of a three-game series to the Bulls. However, it’s a new season with a lot of fresh talent under head coach Jim Penders, who is entering his 19th season with the Huskies.
There are 12 true freshman and four graduate student transfers that will be putting on the Hook C pinstripes for the first time, aiming to prove why the team was voted as the preseason favorite by the Big East and ranked 39 out of 50 by Collegiate Baseball. With a predominantly young team, there will be a lot of focus on and expectations for the college baseball veterans, even if they aren’t veterans to UConn’s program.
Casey Dana is a graduate transfer from Seton Hall, who is an outfielder and first baseman. Last season, he finished eighth in the Big East with 12 doubles and led the conference in sacrifice flies with six. After pitcher and first baseman Reggie Crawford suffered an injury to his left elbow this past fall, it’s likely that he’ll be out for the 2022 season and UConn will look to Dana for not only experience and leadership on the diamond, but specifically to be a reliable first baseman.
However, Dana isn’t necessarily a shoe (or cleat) in for that position. Just like Crawford, Ben Huber is a left-handed pitcher and a first baseman. He transferred to UConn from Limestone College and started in every game of his past two seasons. He was at the top of his previous conference, the South Atlantic Conference, boasting a .439 batting average. Between throwing and hitting, this makes him both an excellent utility player and someone to rely on wherever he is in the dirt.
While Huber and Dana are similarly matched in terms of positions and talent, UConn also has two new but very experienced right-handed pitchers in Enzo Stefanoni and Cole Chudoba. As Connecticut natives, they’re both back in the Nutmeg state after playing in their respective Massachusetts institutions for their undergraduate careers.
Chudoba comes to UConn from Assumption College, where he last posted a 2.57 ERA and struck out 40 batters while only allowing five to walk amongst the 35 innings he pitched. Chudoba hasn’t seen a lot of action in his most recent seasons, and the same can be said for Stefanoni, so they have a true opportunity to make their own names for themselves while playing for the Hook C. Stefanoni is from Darien but transferred after playing at Harvard. Since the Ivy League canceled the 2021 season, Stefanoni’s most recent stats are from 2020 where he started two games and had three strikeouts against the University of Alabama and Stetson University.
Ultimately, these graduate students bring strong arms and unique forms of experience to the team, coming from a variety of schools and leagues. They will likely blend well with the rest of Penders’ team’s dynamic, as they are filling holes left after the 2021 season.
The Huskies finished last year with an overall record of 34-19 and 13-4 in conference play. They only lost one game out of the 17 they played at home but went 13-14 on the road. Elliot Ballpark was never the problem; it was when there was no Hook C action being played there that the team struggled. Per usual, the team is starting the season in a warmer climate before spring comes to Storrs. They did have a tough start to the season, which was expected due to the majority of the 2020 season being canceled as a result of COVID-19.
After resuming play and having a fall season, the Huskies should be better off this spring season, especially with the new graduate transfers that have come to join the dugout. Aside from the weather, the playing field will be very close to even as Friday will be USF’s first game as well. Last season, the Bulls finished 31-30 overall and were also split 14-14 in their conference, the American Athletic Conference.
On Saturday, UConn will play the University of North Carolina Charlotte on USF’s field at 12 p.m. After UConn plays USF on Friday, UNC Charlotte will play the University of Louisville, so each team will play on Saturday with one 2022 game under their belts. In 2021, the Charlotte 49ers had a successful 40-21 season and went 24-8 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. They too, however, struggled in away games, with a 12-12 record but thrived at home, 27-6.
Sunday will close out the three-game weekend in Tampa for the Huskies as they will face off against Louisville at 9 a.m. This will also be the Cardinals’ third game on USF’s field. Louisville comes off a 28-22 season, splitting their conference record as well, going 16-16 in the ACC.
All games this weekend will be broadcasted on ESPNplus and on MIXLR radio. Following these three games, the Huskies are back in the Florida sunshine to face the University of North Florida for another three-game weekend series.