Feb. 21, 2012
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By John Denton
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - As the cliché goes, to be the best you have to beat the best and UCF's baseball team will get that opportunity when it faces top-ranked Florida on Wednesday night in Gainesville.
After all, while the Knights are delighted with being ranked in three national polls and as high as No. 19 in the Baseball America rankings, they still want more. More as in the Knights want Florida's top spot in the country.
"We're getting a little respect, but we're definitely not satisfied with it. We want to be the top team in the nation and that's our goal,'' said UCF junior pitcher Brian Adkins. "(Being ranked) is a nice little shout-out, but really we're looking for more.''
UCF (3-0) can afford to dream big because of its track record last season against the Gators, runners up at the College Baseball World Series last summer. The Knights swept two games from Florida last season, winning in dramatic fashion in Gainesville and holding on at home after storming out to a huge lead.
UCF has hopes of quickly becoming a top-10 team this season and progressing to the point where it can host a NCAA Regional and make a serious run at getting to the College World Series. Head coach Terry Rooney knows that UCF can send a message to the rest of the baseball world on Wednesday by beating the Gators for a third consecutive time.
UCF reached the NCAA Regionals last spring for the first time in seven years based on their stellar RPI, which was the result several big wins against elite teams. The Knights beat Florida twice, topped Florida State and Miami and routed Alabama last season.
Rooney stocked this season's schedule full of powerhouse opponents in hopes of once again giving the Knights opportunities to prove themselves against the best teams in the country. After facing Florida on Wednesday, UCF will host Boston College for a three-game series. Next week, the Knights play at USF and they host Florida State on March 6 and 7. It's the first time in 25 seasons that the Seminoles have played at UCF.
"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," Rooney said. "Obviously we are excited to have Florida State playing here because they haven't been here in 25 years. Those are two big 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,'' Rooney continued. "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.''
UCF started the season in impressive fashion, sweeping LIU-Brooklyn in three games. The Knights got solid starting pitching from Adkins, Ben Lively and Chris Matulis and brilliant relief work from promising freshmen Eric Skoglund and Garrett Nuss. And an offense that Rooney feels can be one of the most potent in the nation hit a combined .343 in the opening weekend.
"I'm very proud of the effort of our kids. We talk all of the time that we're going to be better in March than February and June than May and that is the challenge every day for us," Rooney said. "On (Friday in the opener) we didn't play that well. Fundamentally we didn't play well, so we needed to play better the next two games and we did."
Adkins, UCF's leader last season with six wins, said the Knights will head to Gainesville with loads of confidence after beating the Gators twice last season. He said that games like this against the best teams in the country serve as a measuring stick to the team's progress while also helping it get ready for the postseason.
"Our plan is to play a tough out-of-conference schedule to prepare us for the postseason,'' he said. ``It's always been our goal here to see the best talent that we can so that we can be successful when the postseason begins."
As for earning more respect nationally, Lively knows that another UCF defeat of Florida would send shock waves throughout the college baseball world. The Knights desperately want more respect, and they know the best way to get it is by taking down the No. 1-ranked Gators.
"I love all of the respect that we're getting from around the country and it shows that we're doing good things here,'' Lively said. "But at the end of the day, it comes down to proving it once we step out on the field. We'll be ready to play."
John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at firstname.lastname@example.org.