UCF squeaks out 2 close wins, on verge of Super Regional berth
Published: Monday, June 4, 2012
Updated: Monday, June 4, 2012 10:06
CORAL GABLES – As the ball left Stony Brook third baseman William Carmona’s bat in the bottom of the eighth inning, a ton of implications hung in the air with it as it sailed toward the right-field wall.
If the ball bounced off the wall, with the UCF Knights leading 9-8 and the Seawolves threatening with a runner on second base, Stony Brook would tie the game. If it sailed over, the Seawolves would take a one-run lead into the ninth inning.
As UCF right fielder Alex Friedrich followed the ball back to the warning track, center fielder Ronnie Richardson directed him, shouting about how much room was left until he hit the wall.
“I heard Ronnie talking to me the whole way, telling me ‘room, room,’ and then I felt gravel and he was telling me ‘fence, fence,’” Friedrich said.
Friedrich made the pivotal catch against the fence, and the Knights preserved the lead.
“Communication really helped right there," Friedrich said.
Joe Rogers followed up the catch, coming on for a four-out save, and UCF (45-15) beat Stony Brook (47-12), 9-8, Saturday night in Coral Gables.
With the win, Terry Rooney’s ball club had successfully won a pitchers’ duel on Friday, defeating Missouri State 2-1, and a slugfest on Saturday. That ability to win in different ways, as Rooney sees it, is reflective of how far his team has progressed and could be the deciding factor for the Knights going forward.
“I told the kids we’re going to have to find a different way to win [each game],” Rooney said. “They just have to be prepared for it. … They’re at a point where they expect to win this regional.”
It would be easy to remember the win over Stony Brook for the two three-run home runs by shortstop Darnell Sweeney and designated-hitter Jeramy Matos. The home run by Matos, especially, because it broke a 5-5 tie and sailed clear over the scoreboard in left field.
“Jeramy Matos is in the lineup for one reason and that’s his power,” Rooney said. “He’s continued to get better and better in his approach. … He’s realizing which pitches he can drive out.”
But the true highlight from Game Two, and perhaps one of the plays that will define a season for UCF, will be the Friedrich catch at the wall.
In Game One on Friday, it was the ice water in the veins of closer Rogers that saw the Knights overcome a huge jam, albeit one Rogers himself created. With the score tied at one apiece, Rogers loaded the bases in the top of the eighth with no outs. The situation almost directly implied a certain doom for the Knights. But somehow, some way, Rogers escaped the situation and the eighth.
Chris Matulis came in and closed out Game One, giving UCF a win over Missouri State and pitcher Nick Petree, Louisville Slugger’s National Player of the Year.
The next night, in Game Two, Rogers recorded his 30th career save in closing out Stony Brook.
The wins put the Knights in a situation where the team will need only one win over its next two games to advance to the program’s first ever Super Regional. With the host-Miami Hurricanes the first team eliminated from the Coral Gables Regional, that means going through either Missouri State or Stony Brook one more time.
“Obviously it’s where you want to be, you want to put yourself in the position that somebody has to beat you twice,” Rooney said. “But at the end of the day we just got to play one game at a time, and that’s the truth.”
The Knights played Sunday night at 7 p.m., after the time of publication.
For a recap of Sunday’s game, please go online to www.centralfloridafuture.com/sports.