C-USA powerhouse Rice will test Knights
Published: Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, March 23, 2011 16:03
The Knights will continue the most difficult road trip of the season as they travel to Houston to face conference powerhouse Rice, opening up Conference-USA play.
"I think the guys are excited to get on the road and go to Rice and play a great opponent," said head coach Terry Rooney. "C-USA is one of the best baseball conferences in the country. Everybody's playing well so far so obviously, regardless of where you start, you're going to have to win games on the road and I'm actually glad that we're playing Rice the first weekend."
Rice, ranked No. 23 in the NCBWA poll, got off to a rough start this season but swept Louisiana Tech last weekend and defeated Lamar, who the Owls lost to earlier in the season, on Tuesday.
UCF (16-5) swept Columbia last weekend but fell to Miami for a third-straight Tuesday loss.
"I think [Miami] was a game that certainly will mirror the majority of conference games," said Rooney.
The Knights have proved that they can bounce back, and bounce back quickly. Early in the season, the Knights came back from a loss to Southeastern Louisiana to defeat then-No. 29 Alabama. When the Knights lost a one-run game to Mount St. Mary's on a Tuesday, they came back to rout Boston College the following night. The Knights haven't lost more than two games in a row this season.
Freshman Ben Lively, who has started on Saturdays and Sundays, will be the first UCF pitcher to face Rice to open up C-USA play Friday.
After pitching only two innings in his start last Friday against Columbia, Danny Winkler pitched an inning of relief against Miami and won't be starting until Saturday or Sunday.
"Obviously Danny struggled last Friday night," Rooney said. "I thought it was important for him to get back out there on the mound in a live-game scenario. He's been throwing good bullpens but he just needed to get some confidence pitching a live-scenario and I thought obviously he did a great job for his inning last night."
Ray Hanson will be UCF's third starter this weekend and will pitch either Saturday or Sunday.
Rice is first in unranked teams receiving votes in the USA Today Coaches poll. UCF is fifth among teams not receiving votes.
What to watch for
— Lineup changes. Until last Friday's game against Columbia, the UCF lineup hasn't changed much. The first four or five batters stayed the same for the majority of the season. The only major changes depended on who was playing right or left. Against Columbia, several Knights moved up and down the lineup, and every game since there have been adjustments.
— Chris Taladay not only moved up in the lineup but he also started at third base for the first time this season against Columbia. Last year's C-USA Freshman of the Year started his freshman season as the backup catcher but ended up being the starting third baseman. Expect Taladay and Luciano to take turns playing third.
— Rice's third baseman, left fielder and center fielder are all battling injuries and reserves/freshmen are taking on these positions. Last year, the Knights regularly started five freshmen.
— In the NCAA's first national statistics report, UCF was the only team in the country with a top-25 ranking in batting average, ERA and fielding percentage. The report was released on Tuesday prior to the Miami loss.
— C-USA compared the first month of play this season to 2010 season-long averages. Home runs are down almost 54 percent per game, doubles are about the same and triples have increased by 28 percent per game.
— The average attendance at Rice this season is 3,467, which is fourteenth in the nation.