May 3, 2012
By Eric DeSalvo
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - On the road to Omaha. Around the UCF baseball team that phrase has multiple meanings since head coach Terry Rooney took over the program back in the summer of 2008.
First, it is a mindset. Since day one, Rooney plastered the acronym "ORTO" (On the Road To Omaha) all over the baseball complex. He made sure everyone knew what the goal of the program was right off the bat. He also included the mileage to Omaha -- 1430 to be exact.
Always living by the motto "ORTO" makes questions regarding season goals pretty simple when you talk to anyone associated with the program -- Omaha.
It's a place where UCF has never been in its illustrious playing days that began in 1973. The Knights have made 10 NCAA Regional appearances, but have never advanced to the following weekend.
The second meaning, and the more literal of the two, is "On the Road To Omaha."
Dating back to the 2010 season, teams under Rooney are a collective 44-21 (neutral sites included) while playing games away from the friendly confines of the UCF baseball complex.
Some may ask, why is UCF so good on the road? One of the biggest reasons is the fact that Rooney makes it known to his players that the sole purpose of the trip is for business.
Business trips over the past three seasons have been very good to the Knights. How good you may ask? Try eight wins over top-25 opponents, including a 4-3 ninth-inning comeback at No. 4 Florida last year and a 4-1 triumph at No. 9 Miami last month.
UCF has also handled its business in Conference USA on the road recently as well, including two series sweeps at Houston and Tulane this year. Overall, the Knights have swept five times since joining C-USA in 2006 and four of them have been on the road.
In its best season yet under Rooney, the Knights are currently 13-2 as the visitors and have won in a variety of ways. There have been double-digit run efforts, including back-to-back wins at Southern Miss in which UCF outscored the Golden Eagles, 23-9, to clinch the series.
There have been nail biters as well. Four extra-inning games, including a 3-1 win in 10 innings at Houston to ensure the sweep, an 8-7 win in 12 innings at Tulane and most recently a 5-4 triumph with a game-winning homer by Ronnie Richardson in the top of the 13th at Stetson.
Two things that have been consistent in each road win is clutch hitting and superb pitching.
Overall, the Knights carry a 2.85 ERA on the season, the 10th-best mark in the nation prior to this week's games. On the road, the UCF pitching staff has been even more impressive with a 2.82 ERA and each starter under 2.80.
The bats have also been there as sluggers D.J. Hicks (.322, 2 HR) and Richardson (.318, 4 HR) are batting well over .300 and have six of the Knights' nine home runs while away from home.
While their road record is quite impressive this year, it's not like the Knights have been slouches at home. The team has won 23 games, including four weekend sweeps, and fan support has been at an all-time high in 2012.
In fact, UCF is set to average a record number of fans this year at the newly expanded ballpark. More than 44,000 supporters (1,441 per game) have seen the nationally ranked Knights play at home this season, including seven of the top-20 most attended games in school history.
UCF has just seven more home games this season for fans to enjoy premier baseball in Central Florida. It all starts with this weekend's series with Presbyterian beginning Saturday at 6:30 p.m., followed by a midweek contest with Stetson (May 15) and a potential winner-take-all C-USA showdown with Rice (May 17-19).
As the stellar regular season winds down and the postseason is just on the horizon, the Knights have no reason to believe they can't continue their special season even if they play away from the rowdy UCF faithful.
If the team ever needs a reminder of where it is headed, all they need to do is look down at their wristbands that read "UCF Baseball ORTO 1430."