Knights fall to Rice on 'Championship Saturday,' 5-2
No. 13 UCF leaves 12 runners on base during loss to No. 5 Owls
Published: Saturday, May 19, 2012
Updated: Saturday, May 19, 2012 18:05
In the biggest game in the program’s history, the No. 13 UCF Knights certainly had their chances.
The Knights left 12 runners on base where the No. 5 Rice Owls, who outhit UCF 14-9, left only seven. The timely hitting of the latter and the lack thereof from the former reflected itself in the 5-2 final score, giving a storied Rice program another Conference USA regular season championship to its credit and the Knights left to wonder what could have been in the winner-takes-all rubber match.
“We had opportunities for two out RBIs and unfortunately we didn’t do it,” head coach Terry Rooney said. “In a lot of ways, that’s how you win close games. You’ve got to get the two out RBIs.”
John Simms was brilliant for the Owls en route to his fifth win of the season, going 5 1/3 innings and giving up only one earned run. Brian Adkins, who started for the Knights, would not find the same success, lasting only an inning and a third and giving up three earned runs, a deficit his team would not be able to overcome.
“He was up in the zone,” Rooney said. “He fell behind too much, the ball was up in the zone and obviously we needed to get him out of there, he just didn’t have it.”
Where Adkins struggled, senior Bryan Brown came on in relief and, in what was likely his last outing at Jay Bergman Field, was excellent in keeping his team in the game.
“There was a lot on the line and I didn’t want to give up any more runs,” Brown said. “Get strike one over [the plate] and go from there.”
Brown went for the longest outing of his career, 6 2/3 innings, giving up two runs (one of which was charged to him although it came on a wild pitch after he’d come out of the game) and striking out three. As he walked off the field he received a standing ovation from the announced crowd of 2,131.
“Bryan Brown was awesome today. [He] threw this team on his shoulders,” Rooney said. “That is four years of hard work.”
D.J. Hicks drove home the only two RBIs on the day for UCF, with one in the first inning and another in the seventh inning. Still, it was Hicks’ last at-bat that potentially could have been the most important.
Hicks came up to bat representing the tying run in the bottom of the ninth, with one out, and sent a long fly ball to left field that, momentarily, gave Knights’ fan reason to hope. The ball hung up, though, in what became a progressively windier day as the game went on, and with that pop-out and an Alex Friedrich strikeout, the Knights’ hopes for a rally were squashed.
“Oh man, that’s what you dream of [to hit a home run in that situation],” Hicks said. “I got a good swing on it but I left it a little bit up.”
The enormity of the series, which was pegged a championship series with both teams tied for first place entering Thursday, was not lost on the UCF fan base. A home series-record 6,601 fans came and took in the weekends’ contests, and while they weren’t treated to history, Rooney is hopeful they what saw instead was an important learning experience for his club as it gears up for the postseason.
“This weekend, although the outcome was not what you wanted, I think it can serve a purpose and that is that we’re really close to being one of the eight best teams in the country,” Rooney said. “We just have to get a little bit better. … At the end of the day we want to be one of the eight teams playing in Omaha.”
The club will hope to put the loss behind them quickly, with a possible chance for redemption just days away. The Knights will be the No. 2 seed in this week’s Conference USA tournament in Pearl, Miss. and, in all likelihood, the path to a tournament championship will have to go through the Owls.
“We will be a better team for playing this series and playing this game today in this environment in a championship setting,” Rooney said. “We’re going to regroup and play for a couple more championships.”