“I was very pleased with the way we played tonight,” said head coach Terry Rooney. “The most important thing early in the season is to be fundamentally sound, and we didn’t have an error and we didn’t walk a batter. So that’s huge for us, and those are the things that will control our destiny in a lot of ways throughout the year.”
Leading a 12-hit UCF parade, Darnell Sweeney was a home run away from hitting for the cycle and Jonathan Griffin hit a two-run blast in the first inning that some wondered when would come down. Meanwhile, Beau Taylor extended his hitting streak to 22 games in his final at-bat in the eighth inning. That tied Shane Brown for the second-longest in UCF history (Mike Myers claims the school record at 26 games set in 2001).
Winkler provided the spark on the mound as UCF held a slim 4-1 lead before scoring seven in the eighth. The junior-college transfer from Effingham, Ill., only gave up one run in 6.0 innings, not walking a batter and striking out six. He also forced Siena to hit into three double plays while he was on the hill. Cicio relieved Winkler in the seventh and proceeded to limit the Saints to one hit while striking out five for the three-inning save.
“I felt great. I was just trying to throw strikes, not walk any guys and pound the zone,” said Winkler, who became the fourth-straight UCF pitcher to allow one earned run or less on Opening Day. “This was my first college start and I was definitely nervous, but once I got on the mound and I heard my walk-out song it was all adrenaline after that.”
It did not take long for the Knights to get the highlight reel going, as on the first pitch Griffin moved quickly to his right at first base to snag a high grounder before flipping it to Winkler for the first out. Winkler then took matters into his own hands by striking out the next two batters to end the inning.
In its first trip to the plate, UCF’s offense batted around to jump on top 3-0. Newcomer Travis Shreve wanted to set the tone early by crowding home plate against Siena starter Kyle Sumple, and it led to him getting hit on a 2-2 offering. After stealing second and third and a walk to Ronnie Richardson, Sweeney produced a RBI groundout for a 1-0 lead. Two batters later and the advantage stretched to 3-0 thanks a to a two-out, two-run blast to left-center off the bat of Griffin as both outfielders took one step until watching it sail deep over the palm trees.
The Knights tacked on one more run in the second, an unearned run when Taylor’s fly ball in left with two outs was misplayed, allowing Sweeney to score from second. However Siena got that run right back in the fourth when Dan Paolini, who led the nation in home runs per game last year, smashed a solo shot over the fence in left.
That was the only wrinkle for Winkler until the sixth when he worked into some trouble as the first two Saints got aboard. Yet the right-hander escaped by inducing John Rooney to ground into a 4-3 double play, and Mike Fish to ground out to second as well.
Although Siena’s pitching staff shut down UCF from the third to the seventh innings, the Knights finally put it away in the eighth. With the bases juiced, nobody out and the infield in, Shreve lined a two-run double to left-center, and Sweeney delivered a one-out, two-run triple down the line in right. Taylor then dug in hoping to extend his streak and got new life when the infield could not handle a foul pop-up. With the count 2-2 vs. Neil Fryer, Taylor laced a RBI single up the middle to keep the streak alive. And thanks to a pair of Siena errors, UCF later scored two more runs to seal the victory.
UCF and Siena will meet again Saturday at 4 p.m. with the series finale scheduled for Sunday at 1 p.m.