May 10, 2012
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By John Denton
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Officially, Ben Lively's April 13 appearance against Southern Miss went down as a loss as he yielded a run in the bottom of the 14th inning for a 1-0 UCF defeat.
But as it turns out, what happened earlier in the night in Hattiesburg, Miss., proved to be a key turning point in the season for UCF's powerful right-handed pitcher.
When Lively pitched out of a bases loaded jam with consecutive strikeouts in the 11th inning of that game, it gave him the confidence that he needed to save his season. Once the Knights' ace earlier in the season, Lively was demoted from the starting rotation to the bullpen in an attempt to help him regain his location and his confidence.
His strong showing at Southern Miss earned him a spot back in the rotation, and Lively responded by being practically unhittable since then. He's given up just one run in his past three starts, blanking Tulane and Memphis and allowing a run in seven innings against Presbyterian College. And over his last 31 2/3 innings on the mound, Lively has yielded only two runs, including that one at Southern Miss on the night that salvaged his season.
"I got a little too comfortable and cocky in the beginning of the season and I had to settle down and get my old attitude back. After that, everything started to come back together for me,'' Lively said. "It was a loss that day at Southern Miss, but really it was a big confidence-booster for me. I was able to pitch well and get out of some big jams that day and ever since then I've had a lot of confidence.''
Having regained his role as UCF's ``Friday guy,'' Lively will be on the mound on Friday afternoon when the No. 13 Knights (38-11 overall) face Marshall in Huntington, West Va. UCF is tied atop Conference USA at 13-5 with Rice and it needs to keep winning to make next week's regular season-ending series in Orlando against the Owls an epic one.
The Knights are hoping that Lively can continue with the hot hand and get them off to a good start against Marshall. The hard-throwing pitcher is 8-1 this season with a dazzling 2.25 ERA. He's struck out 64 batters in 60 innings and has yielded just 45 hits in 15 appearances. The sophomore from Gulf Breeze recently recorded the 100th strikeout of his career and he's 13-2 in two seasons with the Knights.
Six of Lively's appearances this season came out of the bullpen after he was removed from the rotation following a midseason lull. An ultra-competitive player, Lively made some changes in his pitching delivery and worked with a determination to win back his role as UCF's top starter. UCF head coach Terry Rooney is hoping that Lively follows a similar path as 2011 starter Danny Winkler, who used a stint in the bullpen to work his way back into the rotation. Winkler was UCF's best pitcher last season down the stretch as the Knights made it to a NCAA Regional for the first time in six seasons.
"Ben deserves the credit because he's worked so hard. He never got down, continued to compete and continued to work hard,'' Rooney said. ``What's most impressive is that he stuck with it. Ben has always had the competitiveness and confidence, but he just needed to be able to locate his pitches better. The reason he's been better is because he maintained his confidence throughout his struggles and he's continued to work at it.''
Being in the bullpen was an odd place for a pitcher who Rooney said was the pitcher who would be the determining factor in what kind of season UCF would have this year. But the time in the `pen helped Lively get back to more of a three-quarters delivery with his pitches, something that helped him keep his fastball lower in the strike zone.
"I was a little upset at first, but I also knew there was a good reason why I was in the bullpen instead of being in the rotation,'' admitted Lively, who struck out a personal-best 11 batters against Boston College early in the season. ``But looking back on it now, I think it was a good thing for me.''
With his powerful, 6-foot-4 frame, flat-billed hat pulled down just above his eyes and dark sunglasses, Lively can sometimes fit the bill of cool. He practically oozes confidence out of his every pore, especially when he reaches back and fires a fastball past a hitter.
Admittedly, Lively's competitiveness and cockiness can get the best of him at times. It's important for him, he said, to remain calm on the mound, but also not get too comfortable. That's why he thrived during his stint in the bullpen and why he pitched so effectively in getting out of jams against Southern Miss, Tulane and Presbyterian lately.
"I'm always competing in everything that I do. I'm probably one of the most competitive guys on the team. But when I'm out on the mound I have to make sure that I don't get all worked up about it or get the big head,'' he said. ``Definitely it's a big honor being that Friday night guy for the team. In the beginning of the year I was pitching on Friday nights, but I just think I got too comfortable. I just need to keep the same mindset that I have had these past few outings. That's all I'm thinking about right now.''
John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at email@example.com.