Denton's Keys to Success Against Stony Brook

June 4, 2012

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By John Denton

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - So it comes down to this for the UCF baseball team: A winner-take-all championship game for a shot at capturing the school's first NCAA Regional title and a spot in the Super Regional.

It's a spot the Knights should be very familiar with having played a regular-season-ending series against Rice to decide the winner of Conference USA title. After the two teams split the first two games of that series, there was a winner-take-all scenario in the final game - one that was won by Rice.

UCF head coach Terry Rooney vowed that day that his Knights would be better in the postseason for having gone through that gritty, highly intense series against Rice. And his prediction has held true as the Knights battled through two one-run wins early in the NCAA Regional to put themselves in position to win the championship.

Second-seeded UCF (45-16) faces fourth-seeded Stony Brook (49-12) tonight at 7 p.m. at Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field for the NCAA Regional title and the right to advance to the Super Regional against LSU later this week. UCF captured the fourth meeting between the two teams on Saturday, winning 9-8 in dramatic fashion. Stony Brook won twice on Sunday, beating Missouri State (10-7) and UCF (12-5) to set up Monday's winner-take-all championship game.

UCFAthletics.com writer John Denton breaks down the five keys for UCF to win its first regional title tonight against Stony Brook:

1. Be resilient.

Rooney said the defining characteristic of this UCF team all season has been its consistency. The Knights have been so good at playing hard and playing with the right mindset that they have avoided losing streaks for the most part and battled every day.

Only four times all season did UCF lose consecutive games. They rebounded from two tough one-run losses to Florida State early in the season by putting together an impressive winning streak. And after falling to Rice and getting run-ruled by UAB in the Conference USA tournament, UCF responded by winning two games in the tournament in impressive fashion and then rolling in the first two games of the regional.

After losing 12-5 on Sunday night, Rooney and several UCF players said they would invoke the ``midnight rule,'' meaning they would quickly forget about the loss and shift the focus to tonight's task at hand. UCF has been good at doing that all season, and here's to hoping they can do it again.

2. Silence Stony Brook's bats.

UCF faced national powers Florida, Florida State, Rice and Miami this season, and Rooney feels the best hitting team he's seen has been Stony Brook. The Seawolves have scored 10, eight, 10 and 12 runs in their four games in Coral Gables.

On Sunday night, all nine Stony Brook hitters had at least one hit and the top five batters in the order combined for 10 hits. Leadoff hitter Travis Jankowski, who could be selected in the first round of tonight's MLB Draft, is 10 of 19 in four games so far, and third baseman William Carmona has proven himself to be the most dangerous power hitters in the tournament.

3. Get a lot of solid efforts from the pitching staff.

With both teams deep into their pitching staffs, the showdown will likely resemble a mid-week game with several pitchers being used.

For UCF, that likely means that junior curveball specialist Brian Adkins will get the start. He has struggled at times this season with his location and has been hit hard some because of his low velocity. The hope is that his stellar curveball and change of pace pitches can throw off the timing of Stony Brook's locked-in hitters.

Undoubtedly, UCF will have others available and ready in the bullpen. Chris Matulis, who got the save on Friday and improved to 7-0 with five innings of relief on Saturday, will be available after resting on Sunday. Garrett Nuss, Bryan Brown and closers Joe Rogers and Roman Madrid will all likely pitch if the Knights are going to win.

4. Get the bats going.

UCF won the first two games of the NCAA Regional in one-run fashion, but they did so largely because of timely hitting, stellar defense and with pitchers working out of jams.

UCF has been outhit in all three games of the region and has just 20 hits so far in Coral Gables. That, Rooney stressed late Sunday night, has to change. He knows that the Knights will likely have to score at least five-to-seven runs to win tonight and that means getting double-digit hits and having several big innings.

Junior slugger D.J. Hicks responded to getting dropped to fifth in the order, mashing a home run and stroking a double down the line. When Hicks is hot, teams fear pitching to him and his presence has a trickle-down effect on the rest of the lineup. If he can come through with another big game the Knights could be in line for some major run production.

5. Just win, baby.

All season long the Knights have felt like a team of destiny with their ability to win big games and make clutch plays. They are 19-5 away from the UCF baseball complex and 14-7 in one-run games. And they have been good from the start of the year to now, avoiding long droughts and slumps by keeping their focus narrow.

The Knights were driven all season by losing at the Tallahassee Regional last year. Many of the players, such as Ronnie Richardson, Darnell Sweeney, Hicks and Rogers, said that they never want to feel that way again and will do whatever it takes to propel UCF to its first Super Regional.

Richardson and Hicks are two of the best players in the region, and they will need to carry the offense. The back end of UCF's bullpen with Rogers and Madrid is as good as any in the nation and the hope is that they enter tonight with the lead. After all, UCF is 40-0 this season when leading after eight innings.

The Knights have preached a mantra of being ``On the Road to Omaha'' for four years, and if they are going to take that next step along the path they will have to find a way to win tonight against Stony Brook.

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