Published April 06. 2013 4:00AM
Storrs — Carson Cross has been as reliable as the sunrise during his breakout season.
UConn can count on the redshirt sophomore ace to shine when he steps on the mound.
Cross turned in another quality start Friday, pitching his first career nine-inning complete game in the opener of a Big East weekend series against St. John's at J.O. Christian Field.
The Huskies, however, managed just five hits, stranded 12 runners and went 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position, losing 3-0.
"He's a warrior," head coach Jim Penders said. "I was really proud of him. We didn't do too much to help him offensively."
The Huskies (16-12, 3-4) are mired in a major hitting funk. Their two best players are struggling. Senior LJ Mazzilli has a bruised foot and only served as a pinch-hitter on Friday. Senior Billy Ferriter is just 5-for-his-last 37.
Cross, a 6-foot-5, 205-pound righthander from Brentwood, N.H., pitched well after allowing two runs in the first inning. He scattered 10 hits while striking out 10 and didn't issue a walk.
He broke through another barrier by going the distance, throwing a career-high 114 pitches.
"I'm excited to get that done," Cross said. "Hopefully, next time we can be in the left column rather than right column."
Cross fell to 5-1 and saw his earned run average rise to 1.57. He leads the team with 52 strikeouts and has just 12 walks. A converted reliever, Cross needed some time to adjust his mindset to the new role.
"I was kind of unsure about it at first," he said, "because the last time I did start was when I was a senior in high school almost two and a half years ago.
"... I like being a reliever because it's awesome coming into a game and making a difference. But setting the tone from the beginning is always nice, especially if you can do it early and do it well."
Cross diligently worked to build his arm strength so he could be an effective starter this season. His athletic family background has helped.
"He comes from great stock," Penders said. "(His parents) taught him well. He's a good citizen and good kid, but he's a really hard worker. Inbetween starts, he has a great routine that he sticks to.
"And he was firing up the troops in the dugout and said we're playing soft. And he was right. We have to find a way to be mentally tougher to get those (hits)."
Cross's father, Jeff, was a standout basketball player at the University of Maine and had a brief NBA career, playing 21 games for the Los Angeles Clippers. His mother, Carol, was an accomplished skier, earning a spot on the U.S. freestyle team. But baseball has always been Cross's sport. He pitched last summer for the Hyannis Harborhawks in the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League.
Cross consistently throws three pitches for strikes, spotting an 87-90 mile-per-hour fastball to go with a good curveball and decent changeup.
He rarely gets rattled. After wiggling out of a bases loaded, no out jam in the third, he watched his teammates fail to cash in with the same situation. He remained focused despite the lack of offensive support.
It was the first time that Cross allowed more than two runs this season. "You can really rely on him," Penders said. "His consistency doesn't surprise me at all."