Connelly returns from injury with a thirst to win

Noah Thomas, Sports Editor

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It’s been nearly a year since UNC Wilmington’s Terence Connelly has participated in an organized game of baseball.

The graduate senior went down with an arm injury 13 games into UNCW’s 2016 campaign. He’s been chomping at the bit ever since then, taking on a role as a player-coach while he sat on the sidelines and watched his fellow Seahawks have a record-setting season.

Now, after a long rehab process, Connelly is ready to start his final season wearing teal and help his team in any way he can.

“I can’t wait,” he said during UNCW Baseball Media Day on Feb. 8. “I’ve been waiting since March of last year. I’m super excited to get back out there with the boys and see what we can do.”

Connelly returns to team that will be drastically different from the one he left on the field last spring. Gone are previous players Gavin Stupienski and Steven Linkous, but in taking their place is two preseason All-Americans in Nick Feight and Brian Mims.

Feight led all of NCAA Divsion-I in Runs Batted In (RBI) and was named Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year in 2016. He also tied a UNCW season record with 21 home runs and boasting a .726 slugging percentage in his first season as a full-time catcher.

Mims, who had a more quiet but equally impressive year, hit 14 home runs and 64 RBI in 60 games at second base. He finished the season with a .371 batting average — the second-highest mark on last year’s squad and the highest of any returning starter for this season.

“These guys played extremely well last year,” Connelly said of his teammates. “I can just come in and do what I know I can do and help the team win in any way we can.”

After undergoing season-ending Tommy John surgery on his right elbow just a few games into his senior season, Connelly became an honorary coach to the Seahawks. He could be seen during home games at Brooks Field, poking his head out of the dugout and watching intently.

He hung around at practices, assisting the team in any way the brace swallowing his arm would allow, even if it was just talking to younger players on how to improve their game.

“At first it was a little rough. I wasn’t used to it,” he said. “But I started really loving it. I was helpful and trying to do as much as I could to help the program win.”

Connelly’s return is right on time with his recovery schedule — about 10 months post-surgery — and he says it feels better than it did before. The former All-CAA third baseman has a .292 career batting average in 189 games and led the conference in on-base average at .478 his junior season.

Last season ended in a similar way to his junior season: a disappointing loss in an NCAA Regional to one of the SEC’s powerhouse programs. UNCW will look to reach a Super Regional for the first time in program history this summer.

It’s obvious that Connelly and the Seahawks have some unfinished business.

“We have a lot of position guys back from last year. I think seven of the nine starters are back,” Connelly said. “We are extremely hungry. Everyone that came back is ready to roll.”

The Seahawks will take the first step toward another NCAA Tournament birth this Friday, Feb. 17, when it hosts George Mason at Brooks Field as part of the Hughes Bros. Challenge.