Knights open season with sweep, prepare for UF
Published: Sunday, February 19, 2012
Updated: Sunday, February 19, 2012 16:02
The UCF Knights (3-0) kicked off their quest of getting to the College World Series by sweeping LIU Brooklyn (0-3) on a weekend that featured Opening Knight and a weather-induced doubleheader.
The Knights took Game Two of the doubleheader by a score of 9-1. D.J. Hicks, the preseason selection for Conference USA Player of the Year, started the scoring for UCF early on with a solo home run to right-center in the first inning. He homered again to right-center in his next at-bat.
"It's all about that first one," Hicks said. "As soon as you get that first [home run] out of the way, you can slow things down and concentrate on hitting."
The Knights scored five runs in the second inning, creating a gap LIU Brooklyn would never overcome.
Junior pitcher Chris Matulis got the win in his UCF debut. Matulis went six innings, striking out five and allowing one earned run.
"It felt good. The defense played really well behind me, [Chris Taladay] did a great job behind the plate and coach [Terry] Rooney called a great game," Matulis said.
In Game One of the doubleheader, UCF won by the same 9-1 score. Hicks led the Knights again offensively, driving in three runs.
Sophomore pitcher Ben Lively recorded a win after pitching five innings, striking out four and giving up one earned run. Freshman pitchers Eric Skoglund and Garrett Nuss both made their UCF debuts in relief. Each pitched two innings and struck out three batters.
"I thought they did a great job," Rooney said. "Eric Skoglund and Garrett Nuss are, in a lot of ways, the future of our pitching staff."
The Knights allowed a total of two runs in both games Saturday after allowing seven runs the night before.
"The challenge was we wanted to play better today than we did yesterday, and we really did," Rooney said.
Those seven runs the Knights allowed Friday night made for an interesting start to the 2012 campaign.
On a night that featured the unveiling of stadium renovations and free admission to the public, UCF scored 13 runs on nine hits and drew a school-record 19 walks. Senior pitcher Bryan Brown picked up the win after pitching two innings in relief for starter Brian Adkins.
"I think it was our first game of the year and I think in a lot of ways you could see it," Rooney said. "I'm proud of our guys, and I'm pleased with their effort because of their confidence and our talent showed through there. But fundamentally wise, we did not play a very good game and we need to get better."
The Knights took a 7-2 lead in the fourth inning after junior catcher Ryan Breen hit a two-run triple down the first base line. UCF managed to lose the lead in the sixth when Brown walked four batters in the inning and Long Island singled in two runners to tie the game at seven.
The Knights responded by scoring two in the seventh and four in the eighth, giving themselves a 13-7 advantage.
UCF outscored LIU Brooklyn 31-9 overall in the series.
The Knights head to Gainesville next to play the No. 1 Florida Gators Wednesday night at 7 p.m.
The Gators (2-1) have gotten off to a hot start against some good competition, opening up the season by winning a series over No. 16 Cal State Fullerton.
UCF's first road game of the season will give the Knights an early opportunity to see where they stand among the nation's elite.
"Obviously, we are excited to go up on Wednesday and play the No. 1 ranked team in the country," Rooney said. "It should be a great ballgame."