UCF Baseball Anxious to Make a Statement on the National Stage

March 21, 2011

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By Brian Ormiston

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Only 27 of the 300 Division I baseball programs in the country have four losses or less in 2011. UCF is one of those schools, yet with a 16-4 record it is on the outside looking in at the four major polls this week.

Cracking one of the four polls may be a nice stepping stone, but at the end of the year the RPI will provide the best idea of how the NCAA Tournament will be decided. While the Knights are still in the first half of their schedule, it is hard to ignore their No. 31 rating in the latest RPI report by Boyd's World (the first NCAA RPI report has not been released).

And joining the Black and Gold among the nation's top-75 clubs are 17 of its 25 opponents this year. Included in that group are Boston College (No. 40), Columbia (No. 50), Alabama (No. 57) and South Alabama (No. 65), all of which have lost to the Knights.

Two more teams in the top 50 are on tap this week as UCF heads to No. 43 Miami Tuesday (ranked as high as No. 29 in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper poll) and No. 38 Rice this weekend (No. 23 in the NCBWA poll). That starts a stretch where the Knights play 19-straight games against programs with a RPI of 64 or better.

With an exciting schedule lined up, the national opinion of the Knights will certainly change soon, especially with a successful week at Miami and Rice.

And both UCF and Miami enter Tuesday's contest on a roll. The Knights have won seven of their last eight games highlighted by a three-game sweep of Columbia, which has a RPI of No. 50 and was one of the top preseason teams in the Ivy League according to Baseball America. The Hurricanes, meanwhile, were 5-8 before running off seven-straight wins to hold a 6-0 record in the ACC and a 12-8 mark overall.

When UCF makes the trip to Houston, it will face C-USA preseason favorite Rice which sits at 13-9 after playing a difficult schedule early in 2011. The Knights have defeated the Owls once in each of the last three seasons, but a series win could set the tone for the rest of the C-USA slate.

Along with trying to solidify itself on the national stage, UCF also aims to improve on its C-USA record for the fifth-straight year. In 2010, it posted 10 league wins to set the school record after joining the conference in 2006. And that was sparked by the Knights winning three of their last four games last season including two at Tulane, which is currently ranked as high as No. 20 in the nation.

Carrying that momentum into 2011, UCF has witnessed several new faces already step up with the veterans. Junior second baseman and leadoff batter Travis Shreve ranks third in the nation with 17 stolen bases and Saturday starting pitcher freshman Ben Lively is first in C-USA by holding opponents to a .152 average. Lively is part of a starting rotation of newcomers Danny Winkler and Ray Hanson and sophomore Brian Adkins who are a combined 12-0 this year.

Other key notes on the Knights:
-DH/RHP D.J. Hicks back to form and leading the Knights with five homers
-C Beau Taylor pacing C-USA with eight runners caught stealing
-CF/RHP Ronnie Richardson batting cleanup with a .474 OBP
-SS Darnell Sweeney's impressive improvement defensively and .356 average
-1B Jonathan Griffin's power at the plate and .525 slugging percentage
-3B/OF Chris Taladay picking up where he left off as the C-USA Freshman of the Year by hitting .322
-3B Derek Luciano, OF Erik Hempe, OF Ryan Breen all providing the Knights with talented options at the No. 8 and No. 9 holes in the lineup
-LHP Nick Cicio having three saves and a 0.60 ERA out of the pen
-LHP Joe Rogers also posting three saves and a 2.38 ERA as the closer

With head coach Terry Rooney bringing in consecutive top-20 recruiting classes, these Knights have proven to be on a mission together, and while there are still 36 games left on the schedule, the next four will help tell the tale of the 2011 campaign.