It's been more than seven months since the ESPN Selection Show, but UCF players still see an image from it every day. An image that, for them, was heartbreaking.
Throughout the locker room, and even in the dugouts at Jay Bergman field, is a screenshot of a graphic that aired during the show — the graphic that revealed UCF as one of the "Last Four Out" of the 2014 NCAA Tournament.
"We got that screenshot all over the locker room, so we look at that every day," said senior outfielder Derrick Salberg. "It eats at us every single day."
Opening Knight is Friday against Siena, and the time has finally come for UCF to prove that its ready for a new beginning, a new chance at the coveted NCAA Tournament appearance — something it hasn't had since 2012.
"That's why I came here," Salberg said. "Coach Rooney asked if I was one of the guys that wanted to help lead him to Omaha and the ultimate goal, and I said yes."
There are reasons that the Knights should be confident that they can achieve that goal headed into the season. They are ranked No. 22 in the Baseball America preseason poll and No. 34 by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.
Last season, 24 of UCF's 35 players were in their first year on the team, either as freshmen or junior-college transfer. This year, it's almost the opposite.
The Knights return all eight starting position players as well as 10 pitchers. The experience is something that they're counting on playing to their advantage.
"Definitely the experience is nice," said pitcher Zach Rodgers. "The first year, a lot of new guys want to get used to everything, and our year last year didn't end how we wanted it to; but, you know, we definitely worked hard and used that from last year to push us forward."
However, not everyone on the UCF team is taking the experience as a recipe for automatic improvement.
"It's as I told our kids, I said experience doesn't mean anything unless we got better, we need to learn from it; just because we've got an experienced team doesn't insure victory," said UCF head coach Terry Rooney. "But the most important thing is that as we go into the year the kids understand what it takes."
Rooney has also revealed his weekend rotation plans. To no surprise, the Friday night starter will be Zach Rodgers, who was named to the All-AAC First Team last season. Saturday and Sunday will be sophomore Robby Howell and freshman Cre Finfrock respectively.
"The biggest thing for Robby is he's got to be consistent," Rooney said. "He's done it since the fall, he's been very, very consistent."
This will be Howell's second consecutive year opening up the season with a weekend role. Last season he went 4-1 with a 5.79 ERA.
Finfrock is a more surprising choice.
"Cre Finfrock ... listen, he's lived up to what we thought he'd be," Rooney said. "In my opinion, he was one of the top right handed pitchers in all the country in high school."
Finfrock was highly touted coming out of high school: He was ranked the 76th best prospect in the nation by Perfect Game and was selected in the 26th round of the MLB draft, but elected to attend UCF instead.
He has an electric fastball that can touch the mid to upper 90s, and will be on display as the Knights close out the opening weekend.
So, at last, the players and coaches can start to put last season behind them. Maybe when the first pitch is thrown, they can begin to slowly forget that if one game had gone differently they would have played in the postseason.
Senior outfielder Erik Barber, one of the few players on the UCF team that has been to an NCAA regional, summed it up simply.
"[We're] pretty mad about what happened last year, so we're just ready to get this thing rolling," he said.
Colin Bell is a Senior Staff Writer for the Central Florida Future. Email him at email@example.com.