Thursday, February 25, 2010

Preview: Connecticut

Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010 • 10 a.m. - Connecticut
St. Petersburg, Fla. - Naimoli Complex Field #3
IU - TBA | UCONN - RHP Bob Van Woert
GameTracker | Live Audio

Entering his 7th season at the helm of the University of Connecticut baseball team, Coach Jim Penders leads a squad picked to finish 3rd in the Big East by the conference coaches after going 36-24 overall and 14-13 in conference play and advancing to the Big East tournament title game last season. The Big Ten/Big East Challenge will be the first action for the Huskies this season, and as was the case for the Hoosiers last weekend at San Diego, this will very likely be the first time they have been outside since the fall.

Bob Van Woert is slated to start in the Sunday finale for the Huskies, and although he is a RS junior, he hasn't seen substantial time on the mound due to Tommy John surgery since his freshman campaign in 2007, when he started 10 games and pitched 73.1 innings while registering 45 strikeouts and a 3.93 ERA. Last season Van Woert started just one game and only made 10 appearances overall. In 10.1 innings of work, the right-hander posted an ERA of 7.84, struck out 10 and walked 6. Given where UConn was picked to finish in conference play, I've got to think they are expecting a fully recovered Van Woert to return to his freshman form as the team's #3 starter to open the season. The bullpen is a big question mark for UConn heading into 2010 as the team lost its top four relievers from a season ago.

At the plate, there is no question that the most dangerous and important returnee for the Huskies is outfielder George Springer, who is a preseason All-American and was one of just four unanimous selections to the Big East preseason all-conference team. The sophomore hit .358 with 14 2B, 16 HR, 57 RBI and 12 SB as a freshman a season ago. While Springer is undoubtedly a huge power threat for UConn, it is worth nothing that he struck out 53 times in 212 at-bats last season. Outside of Springer, the Huskies also have their entire starting infield back again this season. This group includes Mike Nemeth (.346, 22 2B, 6 HR, 47 RBI in 231 at-bats last season) and Pierre LePage (.340, 16 2B, 38 RBI), both of whom are guys the Hoosier hurlers should be especially careful with on Sunday.

While Connecticut certainly has a lot of talent on its squad and expectations are at a relatively high level for 2010, I think this game is a very winnable one for the Hoosiers as well. While a starter for this game has yet to be announced, I would think that Matt Igel might get a chance to show that last weekend's performance at San Diego was a fluke since Blake Monar will be unable to make the trip due to injury.

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