UCF Baseball Season Preview Part Four - Middle Infield

Feb. 11, 2010

By Brian Ormiston

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - We continue to go around the horn on the infield in this year's season preview, and part four features the middle infielders.

Part One - Initial Outlook & Starting Pitchers
Part Two - The Bullpen
Part Three - Catchers and First Basemen

Four games. That was all Stephen Branca played in 2009. He recovered from one injury to start March 8, then competed in his final game only a few days later on March 13 before heading back to the training room.

But in those four outings, Branca went 6-for-17 with a double, two homers and five RBI. Shane Brown served as an All-Conference USA infielder as his replacement, yet with Brown returning to the outfield, Branca is in line to handle the duties at second for 2010.

Second Base
Stephen Branca - RS So. - R/R - .353, 6-for-17, 1 2B, 2 HR, 5 RBI

"I really love the way Stephen Branca plays the game. I love his athleticism," said Rooney. "From the moment I got here, the way he plays the game has endeared himself to me. And I knew that when our season ended last year, that the health of Branca was going to determine a lot of our success because he's such a good player and can play a lot of different spots.

"This year he will start the season at second base but the health of him and Derek Luciano (possible starter at third base) also has a lot to do with that, as he and Branca are kind of interchangeable. But Branca is a leader who plays with an edge, and I think defensively he needs to keep improving and if he can do that, then I think we have a pretty good double play combination with Darnell Sweeney."

One of the most demanding positions in the game, UCF lost its four-year starter at shortstop in Eric Kallstrom, who is the only player in school history to lead the Knights four-straight seasons in assists. However, a freshman quickly answered thoughts of how to replace Kallstrom as Darnell Sweeney is set to take over for the Black and Gold.

Michael Holmes - Jr. - R/R - Combined for 47 RBI in two years at Gulf Coast CC
Darnell Sweeney - Fr. - S/R - 2009 41st round draft pick by Florida

"Darnell Sweeney is one of the most highly-touted players ever to come to UCF," said Rooney. "He's a guy who has earned the starting shortstop job, and has great speed and great range on the infield. Darnell has a chance to have a very successful career here."

Season tickets for the 2010 campaign are already on sale. The Knights will play 36 games at home this year including Opening Day Feb. 19, and reserved chairbacks are just $199, while reserved bleacher seats are only $150. Faculty/staff, youth and senior season tickets are $99. To purchase tickets, call 407-823-1000 or visit UCFAthletics.com.