Jan. 30, 2012
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By John Denton
ORLANDO, Fla. - Recently, UCF baseball head coach Terry Rooney sat down recently with UCFAthletics.com writer John Denton for a question-and-answer session to preview the season ahead. Here is the second part of their chat.
JD: You lost first baseman and cleanup hitter Jonathan Griffin to graduation. How much is emerging star D.J. Hicks ready to step up and fill that void this season?
TR: "D.J. was an All-American for us last year, but now from Day 1 he's going to be counted on to play an enormous role for our program. He knows what his expectations are. He's an unbelievable worker and leader for us. For us to continue to advance, we need him to have another All-American season and I'm confident that he will.''
JD: Ronnie Richardson and Darnell Sweeney have shown flashes of greatness the past two seasons, but have struggled at times with their consistency. How much improvement do you think they can make this season?
TR: "The way you go from good to great is every returning player has to be better. That's how you do it. When you look at our team, the strength of our team is offense and we should have one of the best offenses in the country. Statistically, I think we do. We lost 19 home runs from (Jonathan) Griffin and a fifth-rounder in Beau Taylor and somebody has to replace that. I don't know if there's anybody in our program that you can say will hit 19 home runs, therefore everybody in the lineup has to pick that up. So for us to be a better lineup every person has to be better than last year.
"Darnell Sweeney and Ronnie Richardson had incredible summers up in the Cape Cod League and those guys have been relentless in helping make this program great. Ronnie was drafted out of high school and turned it down. He got drafted again as a draft-eligible sophomore and could have signed and played professional baseball, but he didn't because he wanted to come back here. He came to UCF because he wanted to make his mark on this program. He's on a mission.''
"DJ Hicks didn't get drafted because he told everybody that it was going to take a very high-dollar figure for him to pass up the opportunity to pass up a chance at finishing what he started at UCF. All of the players on this team, that's the way they look at it.''
JD: You suffered a huge loss when junior catcher Beau Taylor was selected in the fifth round of the Major League Baseball draft. How big of a question mark is the catching spot heading into this season?
TR: "The number one question going in is defining what our catcher situation is. I know we have four capable catchers and Ryan Breen and Chris Taladay will be at the forefront and will be in the lineup every day. You're not going to see a guy like Beau Taylor play 95 percent of the games. We won't have one catcher. We'll have three catchers who are ready offensively and defensively to step in and make an impact for us. Nick Carrillo catches, plays third base and outfield, Talladay does the same thing and Breen can play outfield too. So our catching situation will revolve around those three with the majority of innings between Talladay and Breen right now.''
JD: With your pitching, you know you have two dependable starters in Ben Lively and Brian Adkins and a strong stopper in Joe Rogers. How good can your pitching staff be this year, and is Lively the key to the group?
TR: "Going into the year, the catching is the number one area we had to have an answer for, and I feel good about it. But the second big key is the emergence of Ben Lively. He has everything there to have an opportunity to become one of the country's best pitchers. He's got the physical stature, the velocity and the off-speed stuff - he's got it all. It's just time for Ben Lively to make the jump and I have no problem saying that. He has dominant type of stuff and it's time for him to emerge. We need consistency from him. You want to know two things about a pitcher - will they throw strikes and will they compete. Brian Atkins does that. For Ben Lively to make the jump, he just has to be consistent. He should be a mainstay in our rotation. For us to be the type of team that we want to be, Ben Lively needs to be that kind of pitcher for us.''
JD: You beat several NCAA tournament teams last season such as Florida, Florida State, Miami, Rice and Alabama. Talk about how you have the schedule set up this season.
TR: "Our schedule is going to remain pretty consistent throughout the years. We have a lot of home games, but this will be the last year that you see this many home games because they are changing the way the RPI is figured next year. It will be very similar to basketball where you get rewarded and get more points for winning on the road.
"Obviously, this year our schedule is home dominated. One of the reasons that our RPI was so good last year was because we won a lot of big games on the road. We've got to do that again. I feel like our schedule sets us up to do that with some of the opponents that we are playing. Obviously we are excited to have Florida State playing here because they haven't been here in 25 years. Those are two big games for us.''
"And when you look at the potential of us playing Rice at home that last weekend (of the regular season), that could be huge and set us up for an outstanding weekend. Our schedule is strong enough from an RPI standpoint that if we do what we need to do, we should put ourselves in position for a (NCAA) bid.''
Opening Knight is just over two weeks away on Feb. 17 at 6:30 p.m. against Long Island. Admission will be FREE to all that night. To secure your tickets for all of the exciting action at the UCF baseball complex this season, call (407) 823-1000 or visit UCFAthletics.com.