John Denton's Knights Insider: Griffin Continues to Deliver

June 4, 2011

="" alt="Knight Head" border="0" class="imported"> Read John Denton's Knights Insider | ="" alt="Twitter Logo" border="0" class="imported">Follow us on Twitter | ="" alt="Facebook Logo" border="0" class="imported">Get social with the Knights on Facebook

By John Denton

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Left in the on-deck circle on Friday where he never got a chance to possibly tie UCF's first-round game against Alabama, Jonathan Griffin was determined to take advantage of his big opportunity Saturday against Bethune-Cookman.

Griffin's two-run double in the seventh inning pushed across what proved to be the winning runs for UCF in Saturday's 16-5 victory and jump-started a Knights' offensive eruption of historic proportions. The slugger's big hit paved the way for an eight-run inning and 16 runs in the game - UCF's highest-scoring inning and game ever in NCAA Tournament play.

It was only fitting that Griffin, UCF's most prodigious and productive player all season, led the way in the big day for the Knights. He hit a towering home run in the sixth inning, had two doubles and drove in five of UCF's first six runs with four hits.

``Seeing the ball better has a lot to do with it. (Friday) against Alabama I was chasing a lot of bad pitches and even today I was chasing balls down in the zone, but I was just trying to see the ball better,'' Griffin said. ``One through nine, we were determined to jump on them. We jumped on their pitcher once he started to get the ball up.''

It was a particularly satisfying effort for Griffin, who was left wanting on Friday when UCF lost 5-3 to Alabama. Griffin and fellow slugger D.J. Hicks hoped to get to the plate in the ninth inning on Friday with a chance to tie it up, but such an opportunity never came.

Griffin's double on Friday was the only hit in 15 at bats for the heart of UCF's order, but that foursome of Beau Taylor, Derek Luciano, Griffin and Hicks rebounded in a big way on Saturday. Griffin (four hits, five RBI), Hicks (four hits, two RBI), Luciano (two hits, four RBI) and Beau Taylor (three hits) combined to go 13-for-21 with 11 RBI in UCF's first NCAA Tournament win since 2004.

Griffin's spectacular senior season, one that started with a home run in his first at bat of the year and will likely end in him being a mid-round selection in Monday's Major League Baseball Draft, spilled over into Saturday's game against Bethune-Cookman.

His hard chopper over third drove in Beau Taylor in the first, accomplishing manager Terry Rooney's goal of the Knights getting off to a fast start. Griffin then hit the most impressive home run of the NCAA Regional so far, pounding a ball off the scoreboard beyond the left-field fence 340 feet away.

``It felt good. Again, I was looking for a ball up in the zone and their pitcher did a great job keeping it down for five innings. He left that one up and it was a mistake pitch,'' Griffin said.

Then in the seventh inning, Griffin drilled Bryan Rivera's first pitch down the left-field line for a two run double. The hit put UCF up 6-4, which was significant considering that the Knights had just fallen behind an inning earlier by giving up four runs.

A complete hitter who has learned which pitches to lay off and which ones to try and drive, Griffin hit for both average and power this season. And he's been even better in the postseason, rescuing the Knights several times with clutch hits.

In five postseason games of the C-USA tourney and the NCAA Regional, Griffin is 10 of 21 (a .476 batting average) with three home runs and 11 RBI. He hit a towering blast against UAB in the C-USA tourney, propelling the Knights into the lead. And his home run on Saturday gave him 19 for the season, two shy of equaling the single-season school record of 21 set last season by Chris Duffy.

A converted high school pitcher who only started taking his hitting seriously following an arm injury, he's been on a tear since the middle of last season. He hit 11 of his 13 home runs after the midway point of last season, giving him 30 home runs in the last season-and-a-half.

And four more hits on Saturday confirmed that he's among the hottest hitters in the country at a time when the Knights are counting most on their 6-foot-7, 250-pound slugger.

``There's no question about it, Griff has been locked in,'' Rooney said. ``From the second half of last year he has been in his element and he never stopped. He's had an unbelievable year for us, and in my opinion an All-American type of season. When you have a middle of the lineup with the names `Hicks' and `Griffin' you have to pitch to somebody. We brought them here to hit balls in the gap and hit home runs and that's what they're doing.''

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