ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - A little rain prior to Opening Knight wouldn't stop baseball fans from central Florida from coming out and seeing the No. 21 Knights claim a 13-7 victory over LIU Brooklyn in the newly renovated UCF baseball complex. A crowd of 2,038, the six-largest in school history and second-most on Opening Day, witnessed the fifth-straight season-opening triumph.
The many fans in attendance were treated to a festive night at the ballpark as University of Central Florida President John C. Hitt, interim director of athletics Al Harms and head coach Terry Rooney conducted a ribbon-cutting ceremony prior to the game to celebrate the addition of 1,100 brand-new bench-back seats along the first base line.
Spectators were also treated to a tight game throughout. Heading into the seventh inning, the Knights and Blackbirds were tied 7-7 before two runs in the seventh, and four more in eighth, sealed the win. Rooney, a winner in each season-opener at UCF, was pleased with his team's effort to ensure a victory in the last three innings.
"Everyday I tell our guys, `No matter what, win the last three (innings),'" Rooney said after the game. "The first six are important, but no matter what happens if you are down, you have to have confidence to battle your way back, and if you are up, you have to have the poise to hold onto it. We did that tonight. I told our guys that we did a good job of battling back. The reason we did that was because of our confidence."
Junior Brian Adkins (Orlando, Fla.) took to the mound for his first-career Opening Day start. The University High School grad logged five innings, allowing four runs while fanning five batters. Adkins, 2011's leader in innings pitched, ran into trouble in the first, but used a nasty breaking ball to strike out Julian Castro to leave the bases loaded.
The Knights would take an early 1-0 lead after a double-steal attempt by juniors Darnell Sweeney (Miramar, Fla.) and Ronnie Richardson (Eagle Lake, Fla.) saw LIU Brooklyn catcher Tyler Jones send the throw to second into center field allowing Sweeney to advance home on the error.
UCF pounced on Blackbirds starter Chris Franzese in the second inning, tagging him for three runs on one hit. Freshman James Vasquez (Palm City, Fla.) started off his UCF career with an RBI in his first plate appearance after an error by second baseman Diego Perez pulled first baseman Tito Marrero off the bag to allow junior Nick Carrillo (Glendale, Ariz.) to score. He would later come home on a Franzese wild pitch.
Allowing 10 free passes to UCF hitters, Franzese got into trouble in the fourth when he walked junior D.J. Hicks (Altamonte Springs, Fla.) for his ninth base on balls of the evening. Fellow junior Chris Taladay (Windermere, Fla.) came through with a single to right that brought in Richardson. Junior Ryan Breen (Palm City, Fla.) followed with his second-career triple down the right-field line that brought Hicks and Taladay around, knocking Franzese out of the game.
The Blackbirds would tie up the game in the sixth after striking for three runs on a bases-loaded walk and two-run single by Chris Untereiner.
UCF bounced back in the bottom of the seventh taking advantage of Rafael Guerrero's free passes. Richardson and Taladay both coaxed bases-loaded walks to give the Knights a 9-7 lead.
In the top of the eighth, junior Roman Madrid (Victoria, Texas), with the lead in hand, struck out a pair of Blackbirds in his UCF debut. The bottom of the eighth saw the Knights open it up after two-more free passes gave way to Richardson who drilled a shot to left to plate both senior Travis Shreve (Auburn, Wash.) and Sweeney for his third and fourth RBI of the game. Hicks followed that at-bat up with his first RBI of the year, sending a single to right center.
Junior closer Joe Rogers (Winter Haven, Fla.) came out in the ninth and converted the inning with two-consecutive swinging-strikeouts to end the game.
Overall, Taladay snagged a team-high three hits in four at-bats with two RBI and two walks. Both middle infielders Sweeney and Shreve coaxed four walks apiece from the No. 1 and No. 9 spots in the lineup.
UCF will return to the field at 1 p.m. Saturday in what will be a doubleheader due to impending rain on Sunday. The second game will begin one hour after the completion of the first.