It’s that time of the year where fans get ready to head back to the ballpark, eat some Cracker Jacks and watch some UConn baseball. In other words, it’s almost time to play ball!
After an exciting 2022 season that saw the Huskies get as close as one game away from advancing to the illustrious College Baseball World Series, the Hook C will have another crack at achieving their goal in 2023 with a new roster of talent and even higher goals than last season. In 2023, they’re the favorites to repeat as Big East champions.
Their first obstacle will come on Friday with a sunny opening day matchup in Venice, Florida at CoolToday Park against the Ohio State Buckeyes. They’ll then head to Sarasota for two games at Ed Smith Stadium, followed by the final game of the series in Charlotte, Florida at Centennial Park.
Pitching for UConn, they’ll start a tandem of Ian Cooke on Friday, Jack Sullivan on Saturday, Andrew Sears on Sunday and Stephen Quigley to close out the series for UConn on Monday.
It’s impossible to talk about UConn’s pitching rotation without mentioning their most seasoned starter in Cooke. With many faces leaving UConn in 2022, Cooke now has the most experience after pitching to a 7-1 record with a 3.64 ERA last season. Now, he’s the Big East Preseason pick for Pitcher of the Year. With those lofty expectations, Cooke must go out and perform in his first start of the season in Florida. That’s exactly what he’s expected to do and nothing less.
Sears and Quigley in particular will be two new faces on pitching coach Josh MacDonald’s pitching rotation. Sears, a transfer from Rhode Island College, looked impressive at the D3 level, going 8-1 with a 2.29 ERA. He’ll now have the obstacle of performing at the D1 level against tougher opponents, but with a mid-90s fastball and a good-looking slider to complement his pitch variety. With Quigley, UConn is getting a pitcher who went 7-3 with a 2.23 ERA at DIII Wheaton College.
The offense remains strong with players like Korey Morton, Ben Huber and David Smith all returning to the lineup after strong seasons in 2022. Huber brought power to the Huskies and he’ll look to do the same after hitting 11 dingers last season. Morton and Smith were also able to hit for average with Morton hitting .411 in 41 games and Smith collecting a .307 average in 66 games. Smith, UConn’s starting second baseman, remains one of the most talented in all of college baseball, coming in at No. 14 in D1 Baseball’s list of top 50 second basemen in the country.
Taking a look at Ohio State, they’re certainly looking to rebound after a below .500 year that included an 8-14 conference record. That also includes the firing of former coach Greg Beals and the hiring of new coach Bill Mosiello. He’ll have the task of putting this roster back on a winning path and a strong opening series for this squad against a talented UConn roster would certainly do the trick.
UConn will have a tough challenge in game one against Isaiah Coupet, one of the top pitchers in the Big Ten. Followed by Coupet, Justin Eckhardt is in line to start after transferring to the Buckeyes from the University of Texas. The Huskies are then looking at facing Josh Timmerman and Gavin Bruni in games three and four respectively.
On offense, Ohio State will have two dangerous outfielders in Kade Kern and Trey Lipsey, who give the team excellent production in center field and left field respectively. Both are not easy players to play against, especially Lipsey who combines a brand of speed, hitting and excellent defense that’s hard to be replicated.
They also have plenty of promising freshmen who will see their first college action, like Matthew Graveline at the catcher position and Henry Kaczmar, who is projected to start at shortstop for the Buckeyes.
It’s going to be great baseball in Florida and a perfect way to see some of the first action from this 2023 UConn baseball squad. It’s time to see what the Hook C can do in 2023.