Baseball set to start season, go from 'good to great'
Published: Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Updated: Thursday, February 16, 2012 10:02
In light of stadium renovations, a preseason top 25 ranking and last year's trip to the postseason, the UCF baseball team has adopted the motto "From good to great" for the upcoming season.
The Knights will start that campaign when they host Long Island on Friday for Opening Knight amid high expectations.
"Good to great has certainly been the slogan of our team since we got back here in late August, and what it is is pretty simple," head coach Terry Rooney said. "Last year what the team and program accomplished was good, and by no means do I want to diminish what they accomplished, but we all feel like we have the type of team to take the next step. And the next step is to potentially put ourselves in position to host an NCAA regional and to put ourselves in a position to get to Omaha, [Neb., the site of the College World Series]."
The motto has become a common theme in each player's preparation for the season.
"Good to great I think, for me, is do a little more," junior first baseman/pitcher D.J. Hicks said. "At the end of the day, if you have more in your tank, maybe come up here and hit a little more or throw a little more."
The Knights have used the motto to motivate themselves during their training over the offseason, but on Friday night, the training will officially end when junior Brian Adkins throws the first pitch of the season.
Rooney's rotation for the weekend starts with Adkins on Friday, sophomore Ben Lively on Saturday and junior Chris Matulis on Sunday.
Lively earned a spot on the Conference USA All-Freshman Team last season after winning his first five starts and throwing a complete game in 10 overall starts. After five straight wins, Lively failed to earn an official win in his last five starts, prompting him to develop a new mentality for 2012.
"Last season, I had freshman jitters towards the end of the year, [but] now I feel a little bit more mature, like everything is going [more smoothly]. I feel like everything's on track now compared to the end of last year," Lively said. "A lot of the younger kids come up to me and ask me a couple of questions, and I say, ‘You've got to settle down quick.' Last year, I was a hundred miles an hour right off the bat, but you have to start off slow and work your way up."
Matulis, a transfer from LSU, sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules. He underwent Tommy John surgery and will be making his first start in nearly two years Sunday.
"I feel really comfortable on the mound again," Matulis said. "It took a little while to get that comfort back. … I've been out of the game for a little while, but I'm ready to get back into it."
The three starters will face a Long Island squad that won 28 games last season, finishing third in the Northeast Conference. Senior catcher Tyler Jones led the team in hitting last year with a .425 average and totaled 36 RBIs.
Opening weekend will feature more than just a series of games between UCF and LIU. Friday night's contest is free for all fans, and the school is hosting other festivities for fans to enjoy. Radio shows "Open Mike" and "The Beat of Sports" will be broadcasting live from the stadium Friday morning, and UCF President John C. Hitt will attend a ribbon cutting ceremony for the stadium expansion an hour before the game's 6:30 p.m. start time.
Rooney sees Opening Knight as more than just a baseball game, but as an opportunity for the team to enhance its image.
"The whole point [of Opening Knight] is to get as many people out here and to get them exposed to this baseball program," Rooney said. "David Hansen, our senior associate athletic director coined it, [saying], ‘We want UCF to be the baseball team of Orlando.' We really do. … Part of building a baseball program, or enhancing a program, is I want kids to grow up around here wearing a UCF hat. So hopefully we'll get that great crowd on opening night."