UConn's Anthony Marzi: A Story Of Redemption

UConn Pitcher Anthony Marzi

UConn junior Anthony Marzi, starting on two days' rest, pitched a four-hitter in the Big East tournament championship game victory over Notre Dame on Sunday. (Courtesy of Steve Slade / May 26, 2013)


He wanted the ball. He wanted the freakin' ball.

"What I really wanted," Anthony Marzi said, "was to redeem myself for Thursday."

On Thursday, the junior lefthander from Berlin had gotten only 10 outs against South Florida in a Big East Tournament that would end the way only a true UConn fan and fiercely determined Connecticut kid would have it. And by the time the fourth inning was finished, UConn was already down six runs.

"He was pretty dejected, you could see it on the bench," pitching coach Josh MacDonald said Monday after the Huskies found out they will face Virginia Tech in the NCAA Tournament opener Friday in Blacksburg, Va. "I went to him, 'Anthony, if we're going to win this, you're going to have to pitch again. Your tournament isn't done.' He goes, 'I know. I know.'

"After that he was awesome. Go find the video of the game. He was the No. 1 cheerleader for our comeback. He was on the front step."

So now it was Saturday and UConn had not only fought back to beat USF, 8-7, after Carson Cross' head-turning 3-2 victory over Louisville, the Huskies had beaten Rutgers, 3-2, to get to the championship against Notre Dame. Marzi had told MacDonald earlier that he was ready if needed to face a lefty, anybody, in a key situation against Rutgers.

"He didn't tell me I'll warm up and tell you how I feel," MacDonald said. "He told me, 'I'm ready right now.' I thought that was pretty cool."

Not half as cool as what would happen as they headed to the locker room afterward at Bright House Field in Clearwater.

"Marz walked over to me and said, 'If Cars isn't ready, I want the ball.' I said, 'I'll let coach Penders know.' He goes, 'I'm ready to do this.' "

"I had command issues against South Florida. I couldn't get ahead of batters. That kills you as a pitcher. I still had all the confidence in the world. I just want to go out there and pound the strike zone. I wanted to redeem myself."

This is what you need to know about Anthony Marzi. He arrived at UConn without a scholarship. In his freshman year, knowing he might make only one appearance — that's it — he agreed to give up his redshirt 70 percent of the way into the season. As a sophomore, he was third in the Big East with an ERA of 2.55 and 21st in the nation with a WHIP of 0.97, but finished 3-8, because the Huskies were shut out five times in his starts.

But maybe what you really need to know about Anthony Marzi is that he grew up a UConn fan, a big UConn basketball fan. Loves Ben Gordon, he said, loves Emeka Okafor, loves all of them. He understands what the demise of Big East tradition means. He understands how Jim Penders became the first man to win a Big East title as a player and coach. As one of 19 Connecticut players on the Huskies, ones designated to wear a small decal of the state on their caps and their batting helmets, yeah, Anthony Marzi understands plenty.

"I'm getting a lot of credit for what happened Sunday," Marzi said. "The credit really should go to the hitters. It's easy to pitch with the lead. They sucked the energy out of that other dugout. But I have to say, it was really special to be out there for the last out."

Last out, pitch No. 116, Lane Richards popped to first baseman Bobby Melley. On two days rest, Marzi had gone all nine innings, allowed just four hits, one run — a seventh-inning homer by Trey Mancini — to beat Notre Dame, 8-1, and make UConn the first No. 8 seed ever to win the tournament.

"He was amazing," Penders said.

That's right. In the last Real Big East event, a Connecticut kid from the only school remaining from the original Big East was left standing … until he got knocked over in one of the most delirious dog piles in school history.

Penders called it the most satisfying moment of his career. He also said he'd be lying if he said he saw it coming two weeks ago. The Huskies had lost 11 of 12 Big East games and Penders admitted to be as down as he ever had been as coach. There was a long nine-hour bus ride to George Mason, enough time to meet with several players about accountability and mental toughness. Did he need to talk with Marzi?

"No, no," Penders said. "He does everything right. His process is flawless, almost to the point where it's too much, his attention to detail is amazing. He never ingests anything into his body that won't be turned into muscle. I never have to worry about him in the classroom [he was 2012 All-Big East Academic] or anywhere."

Penders took us out of that bus and into another:

"Before we got off Sunday I asked the guys how many of you got recruited by Notre Dame? One hand went up. He got like a camp brochure one time. I asked Anthony what country club his father belonged to. He shook his head no.

"He was ready to go out and beat somebody. He has that Berlin toughness. They win championships there. It's a gritty town. It's a baseball town. A lot of people care about the kids in that town."

Penders took us off that bus to his dinner table the night before and the conversation he had with MacDonald.

"Carson deserved first crack at Notre Dame, but his body hadn't responded the way we or he had hoped," Penders said. "He had a little tightness in his back, which he gets. He tried to ramp up and throw on Saturday and that set him back."

It was at dinner that MacDonald told him how Marzi wanted the ball.

Penders didn't tell Marzi of his decision in person. He called him at 10:30 p.m. and asked Marzi, who had won American Legion state and regional titles, how many championships he had pitched in.

"I already knew he had won all four times, I just wanted him to verbalize it," Penders said. "I said, 'Let's go get No. 5, OK?' Anthony said, 'Hell, yes.'"

Here's the funny part.

"I think the phone service was a little bad in the hotel," Marzi said, laughing. "I actually had lost one of the four, the high school state championship game as a junior. But if wants to give me credit I'll take it."

Pitcher and pitching coach were happiest with his first-pitch strikes and his fastball command against the Irish. His breaking stuff, especially to lefties, was nasty. Just ask Big East Player of the Year Eric Jagielo. Marzi throws four pitches, but he went almost exclusively fastball and curve.

"When his breaker is on, it's the best on our team," MacDonald said.

MacDonald calls the pitches and Penders said he asked only once for advice. It was in the second inning. After Marzi retired the first eight hitters, he gave up a double to Charlie Markson. Frank DeSico was up and MacDonald asked fastball in or out. "Out," Penders said. "[DeSico] hit it hard. I let an expletive out."

And that's when L.J. Mazilli made a tide-turning diving play at second base to save a run. Jon Testani also made a fabulous catch in the ninth. The pitch of the game, Marzi and MacDonald agreed, was the fastball to get DH Phil Mosey to end the fourth. With two out, Mancini singled, Ryan Bull walked and Marzi fell behind 3-0 on the count. He pounded his way out the jam with fastballs, striking out Mosey.

"That's when I actually started to think, wow, we're going to win this thing," MacDonald said. "Once we saw he had his fastball command, I wasn't worried about innings or pitch count. He works harder than any kid on our team conditioning-wise."

"Even this year, we didn't get runs for him. When he got a 2-0 lead in the first we must have felt like was 10-0. I'm so happy for him. He is such an unselfish kid. When he was a freshman, a couple of guys got suspended, I asked him if was willing to give up his redshirt. I told he may only pitch 1/3 of an inning. He said if you think I can help you win, I'm in. He won a game at UMass [and went 2-0 over 9 2/3 innings.]"

Marzi talks about how special it is to pitch for his home state.

"I was recruited late in the process and coach Penders had already given out all the scholarships. He told me I'd have to take a leap of faith and that I could earn one if I did well. He kept his promise."

So would the Connecticut kid. Like he said, he was ready.

"I went out in the ninth to talk to him after he threw two wide pitches to Jagielo," MacDonald said. "I said, 'Nobody works harder than you. Nobody deserves this moment more than you. Don't make us take this from you and go to the pen. You deserve this.'"

Marzi cracked a little smile.

"I got this," he said.