April 14, 2010
By Brian Ormiston
Orlando, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - We are three weekends into the Conference USA schedule, and UCF's previous records through nine games from 2006-09 were 4-5, 1-8, 2-7 and 2-7. My how things have changed in 2010. Currently with a 5-4 mark, the Knights have not hovered near .500 since that first year in the league.
Add the part about UCF (23-12 overall) being in a tie for second place and how it is getting ready to host first-place Rice (6-3) at home, and fans may be treated to something special this weekend.
Those 2006 Knights did win their next game to get to 5-5, but they went on to finish 5-19 in the league. The 2010 squad, though, is not exactly demonstrating similar qualities. UCF has won 16 of its last 21 games and is coming off its first-ever C-USA road sweep when it took down a Southern Miss squad, which went to the 2009 College World Series, in arguably the toughest place to play in the conference.
Built with a unanimous top-10 recruiting class, seven of the 10 regular starters in the batting order are newcomers, while six of the top nine ERAs posted by the pitching staff also are new to the program. Yet it has been two seniors who have guided the way.
Arriving onto the national scene somewhat out of obscurity, Cypress Creek High School's Chris Duffy has quickly made a name for himself thanks to a .447 average and 14 homers. In this week's Yahoo! Sports Power Rankings by Kendall Rogers, who looks at every player in the country and breaks down the top guys by position, Duffy has been ranked as the No. 1 outfielder in the nation as of April 14.
And pretty soon his roommate could join that top-10 list. Winter Park High School's Shane Brown continues to serve as one of the best hitters in Division I. The right fielder, who lately has been batting in the leadoff spot, carries a .443 average with 62 hits.
The duo first had to adjust to head coach Terry Rooney's
system a year ago. It took a little time but the Knights were able to close out 2009 with a 15-15 record in their last 30 outings, proving that this system produces results. And they did so with one small yet powerful sign hanging everywhere around the stadium.
It was instituted when Rooney was hired. All it says is 1,430 - the miles from UCF to Omaha. And the skipper has that city on his mind every day. He knows how much that place means to college baseball, especially after he, along with current Knights hitting coach Cliff Godwin, helped take LSU there in 2008.
And Rooney continues to envision the Black and Gold colors in Omaha some day. He also knew when he accepted the job at UCF that rebuilding the program would be an ongoing process. The Knights have not reached the NCAA Tournament since 2004, and making their return to the postseason at some point early in Rooney's head coaching career would be a huge step for the Knights.
"Some coaches may shy away from the postseason or the expectations, but all of us can look in our dugout and see the sign," said Rooney. "And every single day (our players look) in their lockers at the sign `1,430.' Every single time they come to the practice field there is a 1,430 in the dugout.
"I'm not getting ahead of myself, but I say it all of the time that I came to win at the highest level. We signed one of the top-five recruiting classes in the country. Listen, we're going to have ups and downs. When you have youth, you're going to have those peaks and valleys. But when you're down, you've got to be there for them to get back up."
And the Knights have responded, as not only the returning players have stepped up, but even the freshmen are making a statement both on the field and vocally in the dugout.
"Look at the resiliency of this team. I told a lot of people we were going to start slow. We have a lot of new pieces to the puzzle. Then look at this season starting with Miami. They came here and win 19-2. We were young guys then and made six errors. They didn't know how to get out of it. It was too much for them at that time. A couple weeks later we go to Coral Gables and win a game. We also lost to South Florida here in a tough game. Then we go to Tampa and beat them.
"That doesn't happen unless you have two qualities. Number one you've got to have talent and the players that have the ability to do that. Number two is that you have to believe in the program, in what the coaches are telling you and that this is a place that you can reach the highest level.
"I think I would do this program a disservice and the guys a disservice if I didn't talk about, preach, act or coach like we're going to be one of the best teams in the country. We've got a long way to go, but I do feel very good about where we are and I'm not shying away from any expectations."
Ticket plans for the 2010 campaign are already on sale. To purchase tickets, call 407-823-1000 or visit UCFAthletics.com. And for the latest news on the Knights, log on to UCFAthletics.com - the official site for UCF varsity sports. The site, which also contains Golden Knights Club donor information, is the home of UCF's new online apparel store. Also visit UCFPhotos.com, the exclusive fan source for UCF action sports pictures, and become a follower of the Knights at Twitter.com.