The UCF baseball team used solid pitching and timely hitting to sweep a doubleheader, and the series, from LIU Brooklyn Saturday from the UCF baseball complex. The No. 21 Knights (3-0) topped the Blackbirds (0-3), 9-1, in each contest as the squad collectively hit .347, coaxed 33 walks and did not commit an error for the series.
Head coach Terry Rooney challenged his team to play more fundamentally sound on Saturday and they did just that.
“I’m very proud of the effort of our guys,” Rooney said. “We talk about it every time that we are going to be better in March than February and we are going to be better in June than we are in May. That was the challenge yesterday. Fundamentally we did not play a very good game of baseball yesterday. There were a lot of great individual efforts, but as a team, we played better today.
“Winning college baseball games is not easy. Anytime you put yourself in a position to win a series, and potentially sweep a series, it is a great weekend.”
Preseason Conference USA Player of the Year D.J. Hicks (Altamonte Springs, Fla.) ended the weekend batting .538 with seven RBI and his back-to-back two-strike homers in game two Saturday gave him his fourth-career two-dinger game.
Next up for the Knights is a trip to Gainesville Wednesday night at 7 p.m. against the No. 1 Gators. The game will be televised live on Fox Sports Florida.
Friday, Season Opener
A little rain prior to Opening Knight wouldn’t stop baseball fans from central Florida from coming out and seeing the No. 21 Knights claim a 13-7 victory over LIU Brooklyn in the newly renovated UCF baseball complex. A crowd of 2,038, the six-largest in school history and second-most on Opening Day, witnessed the fifth-straight season-opening triumph.
The many fans in attendance were treated to a festive night at the ballpark as University of Central Florida President John C. Hitt, interim director of athletics Al Harms and head coach Terry Rooney conducted a ribbon-cutting ceremony prior to the game to celebrate the addition of 1,100 brand-new bench-back seats along the first base line.
Spectators were also treated to a tight game throughout. Heading into the seventh inning, the Knights and Blackbirds were tied 7-7 before two runs in the seventh, and four more in eighth, sealed the win. Rooney, a winner in each season-opener at UCF, was pleased with his team’s effort to ensure a victory in the last three innings.
“Everyday I tell our guys, `No matter what, win the last three (innings),'” Rooney said after the game. “The first six are important, but no matter what happens if you are down, you have to have confidence to battle your way back, and if you are up, you have to have the poise to hold onto it. We did that tonight. I told our guys that we did a good job of battling back. The reason we did that was because of our confidence.”
Junior Brian Adkins (Orlando, Fla.) took to the mound for his first-career Opening Day start. The University High School grad logged five innings, allowing four runs while fanning five batters. Adkins, 2011’s leader in innings pitched, ran into trouble in the first, but used a nasty breaking ball to strike out Julian Castro to leave the bases loaded.
The Knights would take an early 1-0 lead after a double-steal attempt by juniors Darnell Sweeney (Miramar, Fla.) and Ronnie Richardson (Eagle Lake, Fla.) saw LIU Brooklyn catcher Tyler Jones send the throw to second into center field allowing Sweeney to advance home on the error.
UCF pounced on Blackbirds starter Chris Franzese in the second inning, tagging him for three runs on one hit. Freshman James Vasquez (Palm City, Fla.) started off his UCF career with an RBI in his first plate appearance after an error by second baseman Diego Perez pulled first baseman Tito Marrero off the bag to allow junior Nick Carrillo (Glendale, Ariz.) to score. He would later come home on a Franzese wild pitch.
Allowing 10 free passes to UCF hitters, Franzese got into trouble in the fourth when he walked junior D.J. Hicks (Altamonte Springs, Fla.) for his ninth base on balls of the evening. Fellow junior Chris Taladay (Windermere, Fla.) came through with a single to right that brought in Richardson. Junior Ryan Breen (Palm City, Fla.) followed with his second-career triple down the right-field line that brought Hicks and Taladay around, knocking Franzese out of the game.
The Blackbirds would tie up the game in the sixth after striking for three runs on a bases-loaded walk and two-run single by Chris Untereiner.
UCF bounced back in the bottom of the seventh taking advantage of Rafael Guerrero’s free passes. Richardson and Taladay both coaxed bases-loaded walks to give the Knights a 9-7 lead.
In the top of the eighth, junior Roman Madrid (Victoria, Texas), with the lead in hand, struck out a pair of Blackbirds in his UCF debut. The bottom of the eighth saw the Knights open it up after two-more free passes gave way to Richardson who drilled a shot to left to plate both senior Travis Shreve (Auburn, Wash.) and Sweeney for his third and fourth RBI of the game. Hicks followed that at-bat up with his first RBI of the year, sending a single to right center.
Junior closer Joe Rogers (Winter Haven, Fla.) came out in the ninth and converted the inning with two-consecutive swinging-strikeouts to end the game.
Overall, Taladay snagged a team-high three hits in four at-bats with two RBI and two walks. Both middle infielders Sweeney and Shreve coaxed four walks apiece from the No. 1 and No. 9 spots in the lineup.
Saturday, Game 1
Game one was an impressive showing by the underclassmen on the UCF pitching staff. Sophomore Ben Lively (Gulf Breeze, Fla.) turned in a solid afternoon on the mound going five innings, surrendering only three hits, one run while striking out four.
Rookie relievers Eric Skoglund (Sarasota, Fla.) and Garrett Nuss (Sorrento, Fla.) followed suit by shutting down the Blackbirds over the last four innings to preserve the win for Lively, the sixth of his career.
Junior Darnell Sweeney (Miramar, Fla.) got the offense started Saturday after he connected on the first pitch of the afternoon, sending the ball to deep right and out of reach of LIU’s Mike Garcia for a triple. Ronnie Richardson (Eagle Lake, Fla.) stepped up to the plate and sent the first pitch to right for a sacrifice fly to bring Sweeney home.
UCF took advantage of a second-straight inning with the bases juiced, plating four runs total on five hits in the bottom of the second.
Senior Travis Shreve (Auburn, Wash.) brought in the first run of the frame with a shot up the middle to bring home fellow senior Alex Friedrich (Orlando, Fla.) after he led the inning off with a double. After a Richardson fielder’s choice brought home rookie James Vasquez (Palm City, Fla.), Hicks stepped up to the plate and sent a two-strike pitch the opposite way into left for a two-run double.
Shreve plated his second run of the afternoon with a bloop single to right, bringing a hustling Friedrich all the way home from second base.
Hicks added to his RBI total in the fourth after sending a shot up the middle to bring home the speedy Richardson from second.
Friedrich continued his punishment of the ball in the bottom of the fifth with a leadoff triple, the second of his career and first since 2010, to the power ally in left center. He’d come around to score on a Vasquez double over the head of left fielder Julian Castro.
Skoglund and Nuss both made impressive collegiate debuts in relief of Lively. Skoglund, a 6-foot-7 lefty, surrendered only one hit and struck out three while pitching both the sixth and seventh frame. Nuss followed his teammate’s lead, stifling the Blackbirds to the tune of no hits allowed and three punch-outs.
Saturday, Game 2
After hitting 14 home runs in 2011, Hicks stepped up to the plate in the first inning and grooved a Brad Reimer two-strike pitch off of the video board in right for his first of the year.
UCF continued its hot hitting in the second inning of the series, tagging LIU starter Brad Reimer for five earned runs and knocking him out of the game. Overall, the Knights totaled 12 RBI in the second frame for the series.
Friedrich got the party started with a single up the middle to bring home Carrillo who walked to start the frame. A JoMarcos Wood’s (Orlando, Fla.) single gave way to a Shreve double over left fielder Castro’s head to bring home Friedrich and Woods. The senior second baseman would score on a Reimer wild pitch and see Hicks step up to the plate and smack his second two-strike homer of the evening.
UCF added another run in the fourth with a Hicks sacrifice fly to push his weekend total up to seven. Shreve added his third RBI of game on a single to right and Richardson walked to bring home Friedrich for his seventh RBI of the three-game set.
Redshirt junior Chris Matulis (Boynton Beach, Fla.) earned his first collegiate victory in nearly two years after going six innings while allowing four hits, one run and striking out five in his UCF debut. Senior Matt Collins (DeLand, Fla.) tossed two hitless innings, and junior college transfer Jimmy Reed (Spokane, Wash.) preserved the sweep in his UCF debut.