UConn Legends - Baseball All American John Russell 2017

Jim Penders is the Head Coach of the UConn Baseball Team...and he finds some gems in state, some by accident. John Russell was totally by accident. In fact, John wasn't even considering playing sports in college. He had plans to attend school in Colorado, but when both of his parents lost their jobs. UConn became a viable. affordable option....As for baseball ? John didn't start pitching at Glastonbury High School until his senior year. Windsor Coach Joey Serfass contacted Penders and thought Russell was applying to engineering programs at UConn and that he was athletic with a breaking ball. But more of a basketball player. Jim Penders saw him during a Class LL Tournament Game against Wilton where Jim was actually there to see a Wilton player. But it would be Russell who caught his eye. He pitched well with that good breaking ball, but the fastball was low to mid 80's..Still and All CCC and Class LL All State Pitcher....Russell enrolled in the School of Engineering and Penders gave him look with no guarantees...As Jim described him, "Great Kid, very hard worker with a quick wit."

John Russell as a freshman was 6-2 and maybe 155lbs soaking wet. A bit intimidated at the first meeting as he described the pitchers from the 2015-16 teams as grown men. While he could compete, he needed seasoning. Jim Penders and Pitching Coach Josh McDonald suggested he switch campuses and play ball at UConn-Avery Point to gain experience and develop into a college pitcher. Russell took the advice and ran with it with a 6-1 2015 with a 2.84 ERA with 64 strike outs and just 8 walks in 44 innings pitched as AP went to the Nationals and Finished 3rd...He came back to Storrs in 2016, but was used sparingly...Just 5 appearances (4.1 innings..4 runs, 7 hits 6k and 2bb)...But the Summer of 16' saw Russell turn the corner in North Carolina playing for the Edenton Steamers of the Coastal Plains League. He led the league in strikeouts per nine innings. As Penders described him, "came back in the fall and had his shoulders back and chest out." McDonald said he didn't want to see him back in 2018 because he thought Russell would get drafted. Russell worked his tail off and by the time the 2017 season arrived, John Russell was touching 92 on the gun with a devastating breaking ball. And he turned into a dominant closer on a staff that featured starters Tim Cate, Wills Montgomerie and a Freshman lefty in Mason Feole who'd make is own mark in Storrs...

Russell's first save of 2017 was in the opening win against UMass-Lowell in Port St Lucie, Florida. But the second as he puts it, catapulted him...2.1 innings in a 2-1 win at Texas where he put out a fire in the 7th, a 1-2-3 eighth and then escaped a mess in the 9th. His first win at BYU with 6 K's out of the pen, a pair of saves in a sweep of ECU and his 10th save when he got 6 outs in a win over Memphis. Just the 6th Husky to get to 10 and UConn was suddenly ranked in the Top 25. His 11th was a 6 out/3 strike out save at UCF...Russell did have a few bumps, but his memory short. He yielded a grand slam at Cincinnati, but got the same guy out the next day and a 6 out save...his 12th. In a win over USF, Russell tied Kevin Vance for the Saves record, his 13th....then broke the record with his longest save of the year, a 3 1/3, 0 run, 2 hit, 5 K save against Memphis in the AAC Tournament, where he got out of jam in the 9th...The Huskies despite a solid record worthy of NCAA Tournament status, didn't make the field of 64 to end their season. Russell went 3-2 with a 2.84 ERA in 23 appearances...38 innings pitched giving up 12 earned runs while striking out 66 and walking just 19...(15.6 K per 9 innings pitched) He was named the Team's MVP and Pitcher of the Year..All Conference AAC and Third Team NBCA All American.

As Josh McDonald thought, Russell was indeed drafted in the Summer of 2017...16th round by the San Francisco Giants. Had he returned to UConn for 2018, he would have been on scholarship per Coach Penders. Russell pitched A Ball for the Giants in 2018 and part of 2019 before Tommy John Surgery ended his season. He was rehabbing well in spring training with no setbacks when COVID 19 stopped the season....As Coach Penders told me " Russell has spoken powerfully to our teams since about being the last guy on the roster, but of you keep working and listen to the coaches, you'll never know how high you can climb." Russell is currently back on campus to finish his degree and Jim shares Russell's success story to every in state recruit the Huskies may not have of scholarship.

Mason Feole speaks eloquently of his college teammate as well. "an incredibly caring and selfless person. One of the best teammates and friends that he's had teh pleasure of knowing." And Russell was one of the first people to reach out to Feole after the lefty himself had Tommy John Surgery. Where Russell planted in Mason's mind he'd get through the whole process of rehab...Mason also adding that Russell to go from "a cut/walk on to All American is something that just doesn't happen. He's had to deal with so much adversity and so many people doubting him directly..And he always and will always prevail strongly."

A GREAT success story for any student athlete to learn from...If you believe in yourself with a little help, the possibilities are endless. The proof is John Russell. A 2017 All American and a UConn Legend...

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