Over the weekend, the University of Connecticut baseball team rang in the new season with a series split against the Ohio State Buckeyes. The team, labeled with lofty expectations in the Big East following last season’s outburst, was able to take the middle two games of the four game set in Florida. The series saw many key figures take the diamond for the Huskies, many of which figure to be important pieces in UConn’s push for a college playoff berth over the next several months.
Just as it is with the start of a new year, there are sure to be a phases of the game that the team does not start especially hot in as the players knock off some of the early-season rust, though that does not mean there weren’t a few things to be excited about after HookC’s opening weekend. Each game from opening weekend brought a new script and a few players were forced to respond to a number of situations; how each guy responds to a given scenario can help fans in identifying exactly which players are made for the moment and is a hint at what to expect over the remainder of the campaign. Here are two key developments from the first weekend of baseball action that Connecticut fans should be optimistic about:
Andrew Sears makes the move from DIII to DI
Following a successful stint with the Rhode Island College Anchormen, left-handed starting pitcher Andrew Sears made the decision to transfer to UConn to play for the school’s baseball program, meaning he departed a Division III program for a Division I team. In his final season with Rhode Island last spring, the southpaw managed to put on a show. He started in 12 games, totaling 74.2 innings of work, and finished the season with an impressive 2.29 earned run average. He struck out 96 total batters compared to just 56 hits and 20 walks en route to a 8-1 overall record. His highlights include two complete games, one of which was a shutout against Plymouth State, and he also struck out 14 batters in just 6.0 innings of work on April 16 against Husson.
Sears clearly had the stuff to make the jump to one of the higher levels of collegiate competition, though how exactly he would fare given his lack of experience was anybody’s guess. Expectations were moderately high considering the success that this UConn pitching staff experienced last season and was expecting heading into 2023, and reports indicated that Sears had added some velocity to his arsenal during the offseason. The transition for Sears wound up seamless: over 5.0 innings of work, the junior allowed the Buckeyes to manage only four hits and yielded one walk while limiting an Ohio State offense with plenty of firepower to score just two runs. He was even able to add a pickoff to his final statline. Despite being credited for a no-decision, the lefty’s debut was an extremely positive development. The more arms that can contribute, especially at the starting pitcher position, the better. Head coach Jim Penders knew that he had identified a solid ballplayer when he lured Sears away from his previous program, but he can rest assured knowing that that solid ballplayer is a fierce competitor, too.
Jake Studley is weekend hit king
Another DIII player making their debut at the DI level, Studley previously played for the Wheaton Lyons before he transferred over to Storrs where the outfielder was quite the stat-stuffer: his career averages as part of the school’s baseball program include a .408 batting average, 20 home runs, 46 doubles, and 98 runs batted in in 109 games. Over the weekend, the graduate student started all four games for the Huskies in left field and got off to a quick start — he tallied a base knock on Opening Day before following with two hits in each of the next two contests. As a result of his performance of the weekend, Studley currently paces all HookC players in batting average with a .385 mark (5-for-13).
For the first two games, the graduate student was slotted into the ninth spot in the batting order before being moved up to the seventh spot for games three and four. The move shows an increase in trust from and recognition for his high performance by Coach Penders early in the season. As far as outfielders go, the Huskies already have a solid bunch of players with Korey Morton and T.C. Simmons also in the fold, but Studley proving that he can be a consistent contributor on offense could go a long way in shoring up the bottom-portion of his team’s lineup.