The June MLB Draft is not at the forefront of Brian Ward's mind. Not yet.
There's a game to be won. A championship within reach. The Huskies (31-26) need to win 1-2 on Saturday, to advance Sunday and play again.
Considered Big East underdogs, they've answered their doubters. In a stunning upset Thursday in round one of the Big East Tournament, the number-eight seed Huskies beat top-seed Louisville with a 3-2 walk-off win in the 12th inning.
Ward, a Milford Connecticut native, had excelled on an individual level, until mono sidelined him. He hasn't pitched in three weeks and won't pitch Saturday, but he did plenty to help get the Huskies where they stand today.
In March, the 6-3 junior lefty helped the team get it's fifth straight win, improving his record to 6-3. He pitched six innings of four-hit baseball, until the seventh when when allowed 2 runs on 3 hits. He also struck out five batters. It was his seventh start of the season.
Now he's staring down the biggest moment of the season with his teammates, including lauded captain Billy Ferriter and LJ Mazzilli, who've been offensive powerhouses.
June is for June.
"I'm definitely not thinking about that right now," Ward said Friday. "Us winning tomorrow, and winning the championship, is all that's on my mind."
His focus the past few weeks has been just feeling better. His health took an unexpected turn, but, he said he's feeling a lot stronger now. He was feeling that way coming into the season. He'd put maximum effort into improving his overall approach.
"My work ethic [improved]. Last year, I had arm trouble, so I couldn't work as much, and as hard as possible. Last summer and fall, I really got my mind and body prepared for the season."
The trouble (dead arm) hit him hard last year, but he still managed impressive results. He finished the season 3-5 with a 5.57 ERA, striking out forty one hitters in fifty one innings. In his Big East Championship performance, he allowed just one run in six innings of work.
He'd also just come off of time spent playing summer ball in 2011, in Cape Cod League, with the Bourne Braves. The summer league experience is famous for how it awes and humbles players, as it also challenges them.
"You're just facing a great lineup, one through nine, everyday. It's the top hitters in the country. There are no weak hitters. You're also seeing the best pitchers. You learn a lot, and gain experience facing that overall talent level."
He's decided to play again this summer, and will return with the Bourne Braves.
Ok, so, the championship is the thing right now. But the MLB Draft can't be out of his thoughts completely, right?
"It's in the back of your mind. But once you get to the field, you don't think about it."
This year's draft is rich with high school and college pitching. The first few slots are almost positively pitchers. Ward has had his obstacles, but this season, same as last, he's shown tremendous potential (this time last year, he struck out a season high seven hitters in one game). He throws a fastball-changeup combo, with his fastball in the mid to upper 80's. He also shows a breaking ball, but says he doesn't use it often.
Ultimately, his focus is even more refined, even beyond the Draft. He knows what he wants to do next year.
"I want to graduate, no matter what. Whether I sign or don't, I'm going to graduate and that's my goal."
You can follow Brian Ward on Twitter @BrianWard45