Hill learning on the job for Huskies

UConn's Aaron Hill, right, a freshman from Fitch, forces out Bryant's Carl Anderson at second base during Friday's game at Dodd Stadium. Hill had a pair of hits, but the Huskies lost 7-2.

Norwich - Aaron Hill, UConn freshman, was very much looking forward to playing alongside and learning from senior shortstop Tom Verdi, a team captain and a member of the Big East all-tournament team last year.

Then, just prior to the UConn baseball team's trip to Port Charlotte, Fla., for the season opener against Ohio State on Feb. 14, Hill found out he was temporarily replacing Verdi, who needed surgery on his injured wrist.

"It was crazy," Hill said. "He's an amazing player. I look up to him."

Hill has started all 27 games for UConn (13-14), including Friday afternoon's 7-2 loss to Bryant in the first game of the weekend-long College Baseball Classic at Dodd Stadium. He is the only player on the team to have started every game.

Hill, an all-state pick last year for Fitch, is batting .241 with seven RBI and 13 runs scored out of the No. 8 slot in the lineup and has also walked 16 times, giving him an on-base percentage of .389. He's made 13 errors, which leads the team, one Friday on an off-target flip to second base.

UConn coach Jim Penders said Hill has had growing pains, just like many other freshmen in the past.

"He got thrown into the fire," Penders said. "He's struggling like any freshman would to be the every day shortstop. We hoped to get him some at-bats this season as a reserve. The learning curve is steep."

Penders said there's so many things the starting shortstop has to know, including how to hold runners on base and where to be on different pitches. He said Hill has had "big highs" and "big lows," which Hill readily admits.

"It's been a big adjustment," Hill said. "Just the speed of college. Everyone's the best player from their high school. The pitching speed's a lot quicker. I'm trying to get out of a slump. Two weeks ago I got into a slump and I'm just trying to have good at-bats.

"(Defensively), I'm getting my footwork. It's a mental thing for me sometimes."

Penders said Hill does well on the balls hit to one side of him or the other, but seems to have trouble for now with balls hit right at him.

If there's one thing Penders doesn't fault, however, it's Hill's effort. Fitch coach Marc Peluso played for Penders at UConn and Penders began hearing good things about Hill during his high school career, with the Falcons winning the 2012 Class L state championship.

"He came highly recommended from a guy we think the world of," Penders said.

He calls the right-handed hitting Hill, who is listed at 5-foot-8, 174 pounds, an unselfish kid with good work habits.

"He represents Fitch well," Penders said. "And he represents our university really well. I never have to worry about him making the wrong decisions when he leaves here at night. The thing with him is he doesn't let it get him down. This is his first rodeo. The effort's there. He's on his way to becoming a really good shortstop."

Hill had two hits in his first two at-bats against Bryant. In the second inning, with the Huskies trailing 2-0, Hill connected on a two-out RBI single to right-center field, scoring Nico Darras. With one out in the fourth and UConn still down a run, Hill slapped an 0-2 pitch just out of reach of the Bryant pitcher to load the bases. He finished 2-for-4.

UConn plays Stony Brook at 4 p.m. today and Bryant again at 4 p.m. Sunday, both at Dodd Stadium. Verdi is expected to return for next weekend's three-game American Athletic Conference series at Cincinnati, but Penders said Hill will continue to get at-bats, either spelling Verdi or playing in the outfield or another infield position.

Verdi has been especially helpful to Hill, having been in the same situation as a freshman when then-shortstop Nick Ahmed (now in Triple-A with the Arizona Diamondbacks) was hospitalized with a collapsed lung.

As for Hill, he's looking forward to seeing Verdi play. He also got a 91 on his economics exam Thursday.

"It's an absolutely great experience. It's cool," Hill said of being at UConn. "The guys on the team are just great. (Penders) is a great coach; he knows the game. I just want to not get in slumps anymore. Let's see what happens."


UConn's Aaron Hill connects for an RBI single in the second inning of Friday's game against Bryant at Dodd Stadium.
UConn's Aaron Hill connects for an RBI single in the second inning of Friday's game against Bryant at Dodd Stadium.


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