BY STEVE KRAH
University of Connecticut baseball enjoyed one of the best seasons in the program’s 126-year history in 2022 and a player from northwest Indiana played a major part.
Austin Peterson, a right-handed pitcher and 2018 Chesterton (Ind.) High School graduate, was a dominant force in the Huskies starting rotation as UConn won a New England record 50 games and went to the NCAA tournament for the fourth straight year and eighth time on head coach Jim Penders’ watch.
Peterson, a 6-foot-6, 234-pounder, made 18 mound appearances (17 starts) and went 11-3 with a 3.83 earned run average, 147 strikeouts and 25 walks over 110 1/3 innings.
Before he was taken in the ninth round of the 2022 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Cleveland Guardians, many accolades came Peterson’s way.
He was chosen as an All-American by National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (first team), Collegiate Baseball (second team), American Baseball Coaches Association (third team) and D1Baseball.com (third team).
Peterson was also New England Pitcher of the Year, NCBWA District 2 co-Pitcher of the Year, East Coast Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year as well as all-Big East Conference (first team), all-New England (first team) and all-Big East tournament.
The tall righty also set a UConn single-season record for strikeouts and tied for second in single-season wins. He went six or more innings in 14 of 17 starts.
Peterson was a team captain for a UConn team that finished 50-16 and bowed out in the NCAA Super Regional at Stanford.
“It meant a lot, especially going to a historic baseball program like UConn” says Peterson of the leadership role voted upon by his teammates. “Being a leader of that culture is something I’ll never forget. I was a guy from the Midwest and was welcomed with open arms.
“I gained a lot of respect out there.”
Since 2004 — Penders’ first season as head coach — 65 Huskies have signed pro contracts with MLB teams and Peterson is part of that group.
Joshua McDonald is Huskies pitching coach.
“Coach Mac teaches you the mental side of baseball a little bit better than a lot of guys,” says Peterson. “He helps you find something you’re good at and make the most out of that.
“I had to get my slider back. We worked together to figure what was going on. It came back this year and the strikeout numbers took a jump.”
In 2021, Peterson was all-Big East (second team) and in 15 games (14 starts) went 7-1 with a 2.58 ERA, 82 strikeouts and 21 walks over 80 1/3 innings.
Throwing from a three-quarter arm slot, Peterson uses a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, change-up, slider and curve.
This past spring, the four-seamer sat at 90 to 93 mph and touched 94.
The two-seamer “has a little big of late life to it,” says Peterson. “I like to throw it toward a lefty’s front hit and it runs back inside for a strike. It runs and sinks more than it cuts.”
The change-up is of the “circle” variety. The curve has a sweeping motion and is like 1-to-7 on the clock face.
Peterson landed in Storrs, Conn., after playing at Wabash Valley College (a junior college in Mount Carmel, Ill.) in 2020 at Purdue University in 2019.
He went the JUCO route because he would immediately become eligible for the MLB Draft and at the time transferring from one NCAA D-I school to another meant sitting out for a year.
“I just wanted to compete,” says Peterson.
The COVID-19 pandemic helped cut the 2020 season short and the draft was cut to five rounds and Peterson was not selected.
At Wabash Valley, Rob Fournier was then the Warriors head coach. Peterson worked closely with then-pitching coach Aaron Biddle (who is now WVC head coach).
“Both were fiery guys,” says Peterson of Fournier (now an assistant/recruiting coordinator at Western Kentucky University) and Biddle. Coach Fournier hated losing more than anybody I’ve ever seen in my life.
“The competitiveness they brought to the table helped me in my competitiveness.”
Peterson got into 25 games (25 in relief) as a Purdue freshman and went 1-5 with one save, a 4.50 ERA, 49 strikeouts and 11 walks in 2019.
At Wabash Valley, he got into five games (three starts) and went 2-0 with a 3.05 ERA, 29 strikeouts and seven walks in 20 2/3 innings.
Born in Valparaiso, Ind., Peterson grew up in Chesterton. He got his organized baseball start at State Park Little League. His first travel team was the Duneland Flyers at 13U. Then came one season with Chicago’s Coyote Select then three (15U to 17U) with the Indiana Prospects. The 2017 Ed Woolwine-coached 17U Prospects won the Marucci World Series with the help of Peterson.
Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jack Campbell led Peterson and his Chesterton Trojans teammates for Peterson’s last three prep seasons.
“Coach Campbell and I had a great relationship,” says Peterson. “We didn’t have the most talented group, but we played together our whole lives. Coach Campbell realized that and let us take it on our own.”
With Peterson on the team, Chesterton won sectional titles in 2016 and 2018, a Duneland Athletic Conference crown in 2017 and a regional championship in 2018.
Peterson was a two-time DAC Pitcher of the Year and three-time all-DAC, all-area and team MVP. He struck out 277 and posted an 0.80 ERA during his high school mound career.
He was named Region Player of the Year in 2016 and Chesterton Male Athlete of the Year in 2018.
On the basketball court, power forward/center Peterson was a two-time all-conference, all-area and team MVP honoree as a junior and senior. The Marc Urban-coached Trojans went 16-9 on the hardwood in 2016-17 and 21-4 in 2017-18.
While rehabbing a knee injury, Peterson did not play baseball and attended classes at Purdue during the summer of 2018.
The next two summers, he was with the 2019 New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Martha’s Vineyard Sharks and 2020 Coastal Plain League’s Peninsula Pilots (Virginia Beach, Va.).
Peterson used the 2021 season as developmental time, getting his body right and working with UConn athletic trainer Joel DeMarco.
Peterson earned an Applied and Resource Economics at Connecticut in the spring.
Since signing with the Guardians July 30, Peterson has been in Goodyear, Ariz., building back up after not pitching since mid-June.
He expects to begin pitching in games during instructional league at Goodyear Ballpark in mid-September then come back to Indiana in October and see what the Guardians have in-mind for him for November and December.
Glenn and Audra Peterson have three sons — Glenn (31), Jordan (29) and Austin (22).
The elder Glenn played baseball at Chesterton High and recently retired after three decades as a UPS driver. Audra Peterson is director of career and technical education for Porter County.
The younger Glenn Peterson played baseball at Chesterton and walked on at Purdue before giving in up while pursuing at Civil Engineering degree. He works in that field in Munster.
Jordan Peterson played baseball in high school and a Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., and is now a financial consultant in Kalamazoo, Mich.