May 23, 2012
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By John Denton
Game 1 C-USA Notes ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Through the pain and disappointment that UCF's baseball team felt over coming up just short in the winner-take-all series against Rice last weekend, one prevailing thought buoyed their hopes: The Knights will be better in the postseason for having gone through such an emotional and challenging series.
Playing in a series that had all the feel of a tournament championship game or a Super Regional setting, UCF more than held its own against No. 4 Rice. The Knights won Game 1 of the series, but dropped the final two games to finish second in Conference USA.
Now, after having gone toe-to-toe with one of the nation's top teams and having thrived in the pressure of a raucous atmosphere, the Knights are hoping it will harden their focus heading into this week's C-USA Tournament in Pearl, Miss.
"What I told the kids is this: As disappointed as they are, and I get it because they tried their hearts out, we will be a better team for playing this series, in this environment and in a championship setting,'' UCF head coach Terry Rooney said. ``But we have to understand that we have to get a little better. Rice is the No. 5-ranked team in the country and we're in the top 15. At the end of the day we want to be one of the eight teams playing in Omaha (for the College Baseball World Series) and for us to do that we just have to play a little better in all areas.''
No. 16 UCF (41-14 overall and 16-8 in C-USA play) hits the C-USA Championship as the No. 2 seed and will compete in pod play against UAB (Thursday at noon), East Carolina (Friday at 4 p.m.) and Tulane (Saturday at noon). The Knights beat UAB and East Carolina in two of three meetings in the regular season and swept Tulane.
UCF will pitch C-USA All-Freshman lefty Eric Skoglund, who was 5-1 with a 2.01 ERA this season while striking out 41 batters in 40 1/3 innings. UAB will counter with Michael Busby, who yielded 10 hits and six earned runs in five innings against UCF in an 8-7 Knights victory on Easter Sunday.
Winning their pod could give the Knights the rematch against Rice that they so desperately want.
"That (Rice series) was a tough one to swallow, but we have to make sure that we forget all about it because it the big scheme of things there are still a lot of very important games to play,'' standout first baseman D.J. Hicks said. ``We have to move on and be ready for the conference tournament.''
Rooney predicted that his UCF squad will bounce back this week in tournament play because of the resiliency that it showed all season when occasionally dropping games. UCF lost consecutive games just three times and never had a three-game losing skid during the 55-game season.
"They'll bounce back fine. If there's one area that I'm most proud of with these kids it's their consistency. We've been very consistent throughout the year,'' Rooney said. ``We haven't had a lot of losing streaks. That's to the kids' credit because they have the right mental approach.''
Junior center fielder Ronnie Richardson said the team started the healing process and emotionally turning the corner Sunday night during a spirited weight-lifting session. He said he had to remind himself that in the grand scheme of things that the Rice series was merely a set of regular-season games and more important games in the conference tournament and NCAA Regionals are ahead for the Knights. And he agreed with Rooney that the Knights will be better in the coming weeks for having competed hard against Rice in an electric atmosphere.
"That was pretty much a preview of what a Super Regional is like,'' said Richardson of the three-game series against Rice that attracted a school-record 6,601 fans. ``The atmosphere was great and we were playing the fourth-ranked team in the country in Rice, so it was kind of a preview of what we have to do in these next few games to win in the postseason.''
John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at email@example.com.