This past summer, I served as the journalist intern for the Danbury Westerners, a member of the New England Collegiate Baseball League. Founded in 1993, the NECBL houses some of the top players from across the country, like the Cape Cod Baseball League does. Ranked the second-best summer college baseball league by the Collegiate Summer Baseball Register in 2019, the NECBL has produced over 230 Major Leaguers, such as 2009 first-overall pick Stephen Strasburg and UConn baseball alumni Mike Olt and Scott Oberg.
Oberg did not earn All-Star recognition during his summer with the now-defunct Lowell All-Americans despite having a 0.64 ERA in 2010, but Braden Quinn did. During his second summer with the Westerners, Quinn became the team’s ace by the end of June and significantly improved from his dominant 2022 campaign. Making six regular-season starts, the NECBL West Division All-Star southpaw went 2-4 with a 2.45 ERA and 53 strikeouts, 14 of which came in a seven-inning complete-game defeat. Finishing second in the league in punchouts, the All-NECBL First Team selection had seven different outings where he sat down five or more hitters.
Danbury did not have any other Storrs-based Huskies on its 2023 roster until junior righthander Alex Mach joined on June 15. A transfer from UConn-Avery Point, Mach became a multi-purpose arm when injuries wore the pitching staff thin, earning a two-inning save against the North Adams SteepleCats and throwing six shutout frames in his lone start on consecutive Fridays. The junior righty started all 17 games he appeared in during his two years at Avery Point, going 8-2 with 105 strikeouts and two complete games.
Mach is not the only incoming transfer who spent his summer in the NECBL. Caleb Shpur enters Connecticut as a graduate transfer from Endicott College, possessing as many years of eligibility remaining as Gabe Van Emon does. Shpur posted impressive numbers with the Mystic Schooners, stealing 11 bases and driving in five despite batting .227. The graduate outfielder hit .371 with 24 home runs, 132 RBIs and 67 stolen bases in four years at Endicott and earned Fourth Team All-American honors in 2023.
Even if Shpur never took an NECBL at-bat, the Schooners still became Hook C South. While no Mystic player from UConn got selected to the All-Star Game, Drew Kron posted big numbers among qualified hitters with a team-leading .289 batting average, four doubles, eight RBIs and five stolen bases. Expect a sophomore surge from both the 6-2 outfielder and Maddix Dalena, who hammered one home run despite hitting .160. Dalena also showcased his arm during the last week of the season for the Schooners, allowing one earned run and striking out four in two appearances amid blowout losses.
Thomas Ellisen, who started four games for the Huskies, got the nod more times for Mystic than Dalena did. Starting all but one of his appearances, the redshirt sophomore righty went 1-0 with a 4.05 ERA and 18 strikeouts, notably tossing six innings of one-run ball on July 26. Over 24 hours later, Jude Abbadessa had his best start in a Schooners uniform when he allowed one run and fanned seven in five innings. That outing marked the last of four straight appearances where Abbadessa received a decision, finishing the summer at 3-1 with a 3.00 ERA and 20 punchouts.
Those numbers showcase potential for a breakout sophomore season from the righty, which could also be said for second baseman Ryan Daniels. Playing for a Bristol Blues’ team notorious for making multiple substitutions during the middle frames, Daniels became a constant at second base for five weeks. In the 15 total contests he played in, the sophomore batted .270 with a homer off Quinn and eight RBIs.
Fellow infielder Bryan Padilla spent his summer further north in New England, making 32 appearances for the Keene Swamp Bats in New Hampshire. Despite having 19 base knocks in 100 at-bats, Padilla provided a spark for a struggling Swamp Bats’ offense with 15 walks, four swiped bags and 12 runs scored. The redshirt junior also pitched one scoreless inning versus the Vermont Mountaineers, allowing the same number of runs Michael Quigley did in seven of his 10 regular-season relief appearances.
Pitching as many times as he did in Connecticut’s regular season, the Ocean State Waves’ righty went 1-1 with a 3.37 ERA and four strikeouts in 10.2 innings. Joe Cinnella, an incoming transfer from Seton Hall University, joined the Waves a week after Quigley did but did not record a win in six starts while fanning 16. In four seasons with the Pirates, Cinnella went 8-7 in 44 games (13 starts) with 71 strikeouts in 101.1 innings and a 4.62 ERA.
After earning the eighth seed in the NECBL playoffs, Ocean State nearly ended the top-seeded Newport Gulls’ season after winning game one of their best-of-three series at Cardines Field. Newport recovered with two blowout victories, ultimately claiming their league-best seventh championship with sweeps against two Connecticut-based teams. Niko Brini made a bigger impact in the championship series versus the Blues than he did in the Gulls’ lone postseason loss, but that highlights a small fraction of his electric summer.
In 33 regular-season games, the sophomore outfielder batted .261 with six RBIs and three stolen bases. Playing for a Newport team that had six NECBL All-Stars, Brini produced numerous highlight-reel web gems and recorded seven total multi-hit games. Like Jack Sullivan and Brady Afthim with the Cape League’s Bourne Braves, the Hook C sophomore will forever be remembered as a league champion with his name etched on the Fay Vincent Cup.
Out of the 12 players mentioned, only Daniels did not appear on the roster during the final week of the NECBL regular season. With quality baseball experience outside of Storrs under their belts, each athlete now possesses the valuable skillset needed to help UConn potentially return to a Super Regional in 2024.