John Denton's Knights Insider: ORTO Begins Today

Feb. 19, 2010

By John Denton

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Orlando, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - The phrase ``On the Road to Omaha'' isn't just a catchy cliché to motivate the UCF baseball team; instead, it's a mindset that pervades almost every thought, every drill and every inning for the Knights.

It might seem strange for a team that was 22-35 last season and has 21 new players this season to so boldly talk of getting to the College Baseball World Series in Omaha, Neb., but that's clearly the mission for a confident UCF team that considers the future to be now.

That `road to Omaha' begins in earnest Friday night at the ballpark when UCF opens the regular season at 6:30 p.m. against Savannah (Ga.) State. The three-game series runs through Saturday (4 p.m.) and Sunday (1 p.m.), and the Knights know that it's never too early to make a definitive statement about how good the team can be this season.

``By saying `On the Road to Omaha,' we've got to believe it and then we've got to go make it happen,'' said senior right fielder Shane Brown, UCF's leading hitter last season with a .341 batting average. ``There's a confidence there with this team and we all believe right now that we can go to Omaha.''

They believe that because of the unflappable spirit and drive of second-year coach Terry Rooney and the addition of a recruiting class that was ranked as high as fourth-best in the nation by some services. That group is led by speedy center fielder Ronnie Richardson, touted by many as the top newcomer in Conference USA this season. Richardson has already been penciled in as the lead-off hitter, but he's already made a huge contribution to the Knights with the confidence that seems to pour from his every pour.

Said senior left fielder Chris Duffy, who along with Brown will bookend the talented freshman: ``Ronnie is really fun to be around. He has so much swagger to him and we kind of needed that as a team. He gives us all confidence.''

Hard-throwing right hander Owen Dew will pitch at the top of the Knights rotation and he'll start Friday's opener. A transfer from Seminole State College of Florida, the 6-foot-2 Dew was drawn to UCF because of Rooney's passion and the pursuit to be one of the best baseball programs in the country.

``The theme for our season is `On the Road to Omaha,' and there's no doubt in my mind that that's the direction that we're headed,'' said Dew, who struck out 81 batters in 91.1 innings last season. ``I always wanted to be a part of a program that had such a passion for winning and talked about getting to Omaha. That's been a goal of mine my whole life. I grew up in Tallahassee and it was always talked about there about the Florida State program. Now, I can see that this program isn't too far behind FSU and we're on the right track. We'll be right up there with the rest of the top teams real soon.''

Dew was a 33rd round draft pick of the Los Angeles Angles last spring, and he isn't alone in that distinction at UCF. Of the nine positions on the field, seven will feature MLB draft picks. Rooney, who spent a major chunk of coaching career at powerhouse LSU before coming to UCF, said that shows just how talented the Knights are this season. And it shows that the potential is enormous for a program that fully expects to compete with the best programs in the country real soon.

``Since the moment that the season ended last year I told the guys that they all now know what the expectations are of this baseball program and that's to compete at the highest level of college baseball,'' Rooney said. ``What we needed after last year was an influx of talent, and we've done that in a large way. We've positioned ourselves for big things and we're very excited.''

John Denton's Knights Insider appears several times per week on UCFAthletics.com. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.ucf.edu.