Richardson, Knights Focused on Tournament in Pearl


GO KNIGHTS Ronnie Richardson, who has been hit 30 times this year, is focused on the C-USA Championship and beyond.
GO KNIGHTS
Ronnie Richardson, who has been hit 30 times this year, is focused on the C-USA Championship and beyond.
GO KNIGHTS

May 23, 2012

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By John Denton
UCFAthletics.com

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - A likely high draft pick in the upcoming Major League Baseball Draft following a spectacular junior season, Ronnie Richardson took Saturday's regular season-ending loss particularly hard, realizing it very well could have been his final home game at UCF.

As the speedy centerfielder proved throughout the season he was able to compartmentalize the pain and disappointment of the moment and take a broader look at the big picture.

As much a leader on UCF's 16th-ranked squad as anyone, Richardson spent most of Saturday night and Sunday's weight-lifting session attempting to pick up the spirits of his teammates. After all, as Richardson said, there is still plenty of baseball to play for the Knights, starting with this week's Conference USA Tournament and possibly a deep run through the NCAA Tournament.

"Sunday was pretty tough, but we got after it a little bit in the weight room. We were all kind of taking out our anger on the weights. But we talked about it and realized that it's important now to move on,'' said Richardson, who along with senior second baseman Travis Shreve remained in the dugout long after UCF's 5-2 loss to Rice on Saturday. ``Travis was soaking in the moment that it might be his last game played at UCF if we don't get to host a regional. But I was trying to let him and a lot of people on our team know that we still have a lot of ball to play and all of our goals can still be accomplished.''

Second-seeded UCF (41-14 overall and 16-8 in C-USA play) opens tournament play Thursday at noon against UAB in Pearl, Miss. The Knights beat the Blazers in two of three meetings during the regular season. UCF will then play East Carolina at 4 p.m. on Friday and Tulane at noon on Saturday. Should the Knights finish at the top of their pod play, they would play for a C-USA title Sunday at 2 p.m. It's no secret who they want to see in that title game.

"Maybe we'll get another shot at Rice if we take care of our business and they take care of theirs,'' Richardson said. ``We like playing those guys. We know we can beat them.''

Richardson knows a thing or two about bouncing back from adversity considering how his season went this season. He was arguably UCF's hardest worker last offseason, but it didn't translate to the field early in the year. He had just one hit through the first seven games and was just 18 of 66 (.272) through the first 22 games of the season. UCF's leadoff hitter much of his first two seasons on campus, Richardson was even dropped to ninth in the batting order for one game in an attempt to break him from his early-season doldrums.

A clutch, three-run double against USF ignited a UCF victory and jump-started Richardson's season. He has hit .320 the rest of the season, including smashing a game-winning home run in extra innings to defeat Stetson. For the season, Richardson is hitting .305 and ranks first on the team in runs (49), steals (22) and on-base percentage (.475). He has also smashed eight home runs and 13 doubles. And remarkably he has been hit by 30 pitches - a school record and a total just seven times fewer than the rest of the team combined.

UCF head coach Terry Rooney said that Richardson was a story in perseverance this season and he held him up as an example of how to battle through adversity.

"I want everybody to remember back to a couple of months ago and what Ronnie Richardson was hitting. He struggled, but we stuck with him because we all knew it was just a matter of time with him. Ronnie always had the positive attitude and the work ethic and he pushed through it,'' Rooney said. ``I told our entire team that when they think times are tough to look to Ronnie Richardson. He never held his head down when he was struggling. He kept working and pushing and remained confident and look at him now. Now, he's having a great year. Even when he was struggling, he still got on base and still got the clutch hit when we needed it.''

Rooney considers Richardson one of the lynchpins in the revered ``Class of 2009'' recruiting haul that helped turned UCF's program around. Richardson was selected in the 11th round of the MLB Draft out of high school in Eagle Lake, but instead opted to play for the Knights.

"Ronnie Richardson is one of the best players in the country. And Ronnie is one of the most clutch players in America and always has been since the day that he got here,'' Rooney gushed. ``You talk about kids who have changed this baseball program around, Ronnie Richardson is one of the main ones.''

Richardson was stung last spring when he dropped dramatically in the MLB Draft. As a sophomore, he led UCF back to the NCAA Regionals for the first time in seven years and had a home run and two RBI against Alabama. But he surprisingly wasn't taken until the 31st round of the draft. Part of the reason for falling was because of his strong intentions to return to UCF, but scouts and MLB executives still used several tactics to try and pry him away from the Knights.

"I can't even explain how much that pushed me and drove me to have a good season this year,'' Richardson said. ``Some of the guys who were trying to get me to sign were telling me, `It's not like you're going back to a Florida, Rice or South Carolina.' I felt like they were disrespecting us at UCF, and I was determined to do whatever I could to make us a top 10 program. We did that, getting up to No. 7. And it's still driving me today because I want us to make a deep run in the postseason and prove to everyone that we're not a pushover program. We are one of the best programs in the country and we want to show it.''

Following a dazzling junior season, Baseball America now has Richardson projected as a fifth or sixth-round pick in the upcoming MLB Draft.

As he sat in the dugout Saturday afternoon long after most of the fans had left the UCF baseball complex, Richardson kept replaying the line drive he hit in the sixth inning with two runners on and UCF trailing 4-1 at the time. That liner was snagged and UCF went on to strand 12 runners, causing Richardson to wonder time and again about what could have been for the Knights against Rice. He predicted that things will be different for UCF this week during the C-USA Tournament.

"I've played (the line drive to the third baseman) over and over again. It was almost identical to D.J. (Hicks) ball that got through down the first base line. I just kept thinking if I would have gotten mine a little more left what could have happened for us,'' Richardson said. ``I think we'll bounce back really quickly from the Rice series. We have a couple of more days off to get some practice in and we'll come back going a thousand miles an hour and try to win some games.''

John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.ucf.edu.

 

 

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