No. 13 Knights to host No. 5 Rice in winner-take-all weekend series
Published: Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, May 16, 2012 17:05
The No. 13 UCF Knights will enter uncharted territory this week as they host conference rival No. 5 Rice for a three-game series.
The regular-season finale, is arguably the most important series in UCF baseball history.
Why is this series so important?
First, there’s the obvious. Both clubs have matching 15-6 conference records; meaning the series winner will determine who will take ownership of the regular season Conference USA championship.
Then there’s the enticing prospect of hosting a NCAA Regional. Historically, the C-USA champion usually hosts a regional, and with the winner of this series a virtual lock to move up in ratings percentage index rankings, it’s a good bet that will hold true this time around, also.
“It’s exciting. [Two teams meeting in a final weekend series to decide the championship] doesn’t happen often,” head coach Terry Rooney said. “Obviously it’s special because this is the first time since joining Conference USA that UCF has the opportunity to play for it.”
Though it’s UCF’s first chance to bring home a conference championship, Rice, on the other hand, is hoping to earn its sixth championship in seven years. The Owls have long been the class of the conference, and it is almost fitting that the Knights should have to go through them if they are to bring home the title.
“The in-state rivalries are huge but Rice, right now, is our biggest rival,” pitcher Ray Hanson said.
This winner-takes-all contest is not only about a title; it is also about the Knights gaining home-field advantage in the postseason. Winning or sweeping the C-USA title series will put UCF in a great position to host a regional. This would also be a first in the program’s history.
Before UCF could focus its attention to Rice, the Knights first had to face Stetson on Tuesday, although not for long.
The Knights racked up three hits and scored two runs before the game was stopped due to heavy rain in the second inning. Water remaining on the field caused the series finale with in-state rival Stetson to be canceled with no make-up scheduled. UCF was free to turn its attention solely to the weekend.
Rooney said that the Knights’ mindset for the Rice games is to play within the moment.
“Beginning on Thursday night, we play one pitch at a time,” Rooney said. “Then you focus on the task in hand, and then you see what happens at the end of the weekend.”
Beating the Owls will be no small task. In order for the Knights to defeat Rice, they will need solid performances by the pitching staff and the offense. UCF’s pitching staff has been consistent throughout the season, largely responsible for the Knights’ success, but it struggled against Marshall last weekend.
“We did not command the strike zone as we needed to at Marshall so we have to get back on track with that,” Rooney said.
Catcher Ryan Breen left the game against Marshall Friday night after being hit by a pitch on the right wrist. The junior is currently listed as day-to-day. He did not start on Tuesday but Rooney said in an emergency situation, Breen would have entered the game.
“It is our hopes that Ryan will be ready to go on Thursday. It is not guaranteed but he has made some good progress,” Rooney said. “There was nothing broke, it was just a really bad bruise.”
The first pitch for this historic series is set for Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at Jay Bergman Field. Game Two will be Friday at 6:30 p.m., with the series finale taking place on Saturday at 1 p.m.