April 17, 2010
By John Denton
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ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - UCF lost in lopsided fashion earlier this season to powerhouse Miami only to rebound two weeks later to topple the Hurricanes in Coral Gables. And similarly, UCF got blanked at home by USF in mid-March only to come back with a vengeance 20 days later in a beating of the rival Bulls.
So was it any surprise on Saturday afternoon at Jay Bergman Field that UCF showed tremendous resiliency and bounced back from an ugly Friday night loss?
``That's the story of this team,'' UCF coach Terry Rooney said after his Knights beat Conference USA power Rice 6-4 on Saturday. ``When you have some inexperience you are going to have some ups and downs. But to get out of the downs you have to have talent and we have talent. And you have to have kids who believe. And these kids have shown up every day and given it all they have.''
The victory for UCF (24-13 overall and 6-5 in C-USA) sets up a massive game Sunday at noon against Rice (22-15 and 7-4) for first place in the conference (East Carolina and Tulane also are in the hunt). A win on Sunday and UCF would hold the tiebreaker over the Owls in the race for the regular-season title.
``Whoever wins gets first place and it doesn't get much bigger than that,'' said freshman Joe Rogers, who closed out Saturday's victory by getting two outs in the ninth inning. ``It's going to be a huge game.''
The Knights got a huge game on Saturday from junior right-hander Owen Dew, who allowed just four runs and nine singles over 8 1/3 innings. It was the longest outing by a UCF pitcher in over two years. Dew struck out just one batter, but twice got out of jams by inducing double-play balls.
When he left the field, the crowd of 1,844 showered Dew with a raucous standing ovation.
``I got goose bumps, that's never happened to me before and that was real awesome,'' said Dew, who walked just two batters and needed only 108 pitches to get through the near complete game. ``That was one of my top moments as a pitcher. Just really cool.''
Rooney said that one of Dew's biggest moments in the game was the seven-pitch fourth inning just after UCF had taken a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the third inning. Dew kept his emotions in check - a problem in the past - and gave the Knights a chance to win the biggest series of the season on Sunday.
``That outing that Owen just had is why you get into coaching,'' Rooney gushed. ``He's come so far since the fall. The results are tremendous and that's the outing of a lifetime. He was in total control out there the whole time with his emotions and breathing. That was the performance of the year. To see how hard guys like him work and then get rewarded, that's awesome.''
With a team of 21 newcomers, Rooney was eager to see how his Knights would respond on Saturday following Friday night's 9-2 loss to Rice. But Rogers, the freshman closer who oozes confidence, said he never had doubts that UCF would be ready to go on Saturday and put Friday's loss out of their minds. History, such as the comebacks against Miami and South Florida, told him that the Knights were good at putting bad losses behind them.
``I think it shows everybody that we don't let things get to us,'' said Rogers, who should be available for major work Sunday after throwing just five pitches for Saturday's save. ``We have a midnight rule, we let it go and whatever is done is done. We do what we have to to get a win the next day.''
Freshman shortstop Darnell Sweeney had two hits and two RBIs and started two of the inning-ending double plays late. Shane Brown and Chris Duffy, UCF's two .400 hitters all season, both had two hits as the Knights beat Rice ace Mike Ojala for the first time in his college career (15 decisions).
That sets the stage for Sunday's noon showdown for first place in C-USA. Rooney, a fiery coach who demands that his players play with emotion, is a big believer in momentum in college baseball. And clearly, momentum is with the Knights now.
``It's a game of momentum and college baseball is so much momentum-driven,'' Rooney said. ``Guys at this age play with a lot of emotion and I want them to play with emotion. When you invest in something so much, you've got to show it. Now, when you have momentum, you've got to capitalize on it.''
John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFathletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at firstname.lastname@example.org.