Ace on the mound: Senior finally healthy, ready to lead UK

Success doesn’t happen overnight.

For senior left-handed pitcher Chris Rusin, success has been an ever-developing process throughout his three years at UK. With his final season just around the corner, Rusin is being looked upon to lead the Cats to a successful season.

Rusin began as a midweek starter his freshman season before moving to the bullpen midway through the year. That’s when the pieces all began to come together for the southpaw from Canton, Mich.

Since that freshman season, Rusin has been the top weekend starter in the pitching rotation each of the last two seasons and has emerged as one of the country’s best pitchers. In 13 starts last season, Rusin posted a 6-3 record with a 3.33 ERA, going for seven or more innings seven times.

“He is just a very poised and confident competitor,” UK head coach Gary Henderson said. “He has had a lot of success, expects to be successful and we are glad that we get to work with him for another year.”

That extra year was put into question when the Oakland Athletics selected Rusin in the 23rd round of the  2008 MLB First-Year Player Draft. Instead of taking the offer and forgoing his senior year, Rusin decided to play out his senior campaign and see whether the Cats can improve upon last season.

“It’s my senior year, my last go around,” Rusin said. “I thought we could have gone a little farther last year than we did. So this year I just wanted to come back and try and get to Omaha and hope to win a (College) World Series. That’s what it’s all about is to come back and give it your all and get back to that place that everyone wants to go to.”

Following offseason surgery on a minor bicep injury that plagued him last season, Rusin sat out four weeks until he could throw again. Now fully healthy, Rusin has garnered both local and national attention. In 2008, Rusin was named by the coaches as a first-team All-Southeastern Conference selection. It’s the first time UK has had a first-team All-SEC pitcher since 1997. Rusin is also on the 2009 Brooks Wallace Watch List, given to the top collegiate baseball player. Rusin said he enjoys the awards, but he doesn’t worry about them.

“I just try to go out and compete my hardest every day and work my hardest,” Rusin said. “I want to set a tone for the younger guys to look up to me and see that’s how you’re supposed to do things around here.”

As a senior, Rusin has now spanned the spectrum and will be looked upon to help guide a young UK team that has only three other seniors. Joining Rusin on the starting rotation will be junior left-hander James Paxton. Henderson said freshman pitchers Sean Bouthilette and Braden Kapteyn have been impressive, and junior right-hander Clint Tilford is also in the mix to fill out the weekend rotation, leaving the third starting slot and bullpen spots up to competition.

Once in the same position as many of his freshman teammates, Rusin said he is not only ready to help carry the Cats’ pitching staff, but to help teach his younger counterparts to start the season.

“I’m ready to help the freshmen out and let them know what they should and shouldn’t do,” Rusin said. “I’m helping watch them throw and picking the things out that I think they need to work on. I’m showing them how to go about doing that.”

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