Rooney, Knights still focused on ultimate goal after tough loss
Published: Sunday, May 20, 2012
Updated: Sunday, May 20, 2012 21:05
Thirty minutes after the game had ended, Travis Shreve and Ronnie Richardson still sat in the dugout, thinking.
A little less than a half hour earlier, the No. 5 Rice Owls walked off of Jay Bergman Field, smiling, another regular-season Conference USA title to the program’s name.
The Owls, with their storied tradition, expect to win these games. While they certainly looked happy to have prevailed, 5-2, in the rubber match of the series that decided the title, it wasn’t the kind of excitement we’d have witnessed had the outcome been reversed.
UCF knew, after winning an unconventional, weather-delayed Game One of the weekend series, that it was a win away from its first C-USA championship. Perhaps it was the enormity of that realization that rattled the efficiency of the Knights’ pitching staff. Maybe it was that reality that led to the usually potent UCF offense simply not converting in clutch situations in Games Two and Three.
Or, maybe this team just wasn’t ready to make that step.
Maybe, as head coach Terry Rooney suggested moments after the devastating loss, his program needed this loss and can possibly be better for it.
“We will be a better team for playing this series and playing this game today in this environment in a championship setting,” Rooney said.
The Knights came up just short of doing something remarkable, but they are still very much in the mix to do something historic. Now, Rooney’s club has in its recent memory that of a feeling it will never want to experience again: the feeling of trying its best and still coming up short with so much at stake.
“We don’t want to feel like we did today,” pitcher Bryan Brown said. “I think it was a blessing in disguise.”
Rooney, surrounded by reporters after Saturday’s loss, outlined the reality for this program: It needs to be a little bit better everywhere. The pitching needs to get better. The hitting needs to improve. In some instances, the fielding could be just a bit cleaner.
Sure, Saturday was one of those days where it felt like the ball hung in the air just a little bit longer when it left the Knights’ bats. The breaks didn’t really go UCF’s way Friday or Saturday, but the elite teams in the nation, the teams that end up being the final eight that are playing in Omaha, Neb., in the College World Series in less than month, have a way of creating their own luck.
That was the point Rooney is looking to hammer home to his club. That while the Knights were not the better team this past weekend, they still have some time to get better, because there are bigger fish to catch in the weeks to come.
“We’re going to regroup and play for a couple more championships,” Rooney said with his usual confidence.
The program set a record for attendance in a weekend series over the three days it battled the Owls, when 6,601 fans came to Jay Bergman Field. Unlike games against the big in-state rivals that bring out droves of fans for the opposition, there were predominately Knights fans at the Berg.
“It’s awesome. I love seeing everyone out here,” D.J. Hicks said. “I feel bad we let them down a little bit, but we’ll get better and we’ll move on.”
The fans came, they clapped, they cheered and they groaned. Certainly, they didn’t witness the kind of history for the program they’d hoped to, but perhaps they witness something else. Perhaps, the 6,000-strong who came out to the ballpark this weekend witnessed the catalyst to a program taking the next step.
“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.”