May 18, 2013. Prior to this season, this was the last time UCF pitcher Harrison Hukari toed the rubber wearing a black and gold jersey.
That was the final appearance of his sophomore campaign. That season Hukari had a 3.71 ERA in 17 innings. Then, he redshirted the entire 2014 season for personal reasons.
This season, though, Hukari is back on the mound and is one of the key arms coming out of the UCF bullpen. Through 12 games, Hukari is tied for the team lead in appearances with six.
"Harry's awesome, he came back this year just lights out," said UCF catcher Jordan Savinon. "I mean, his work is awesome behind doors, so he deserves all of it,"
Once the season started, UCF didn't waste any time looking in the direction of the southpaw coming out of the pen. On Opening Knight against Siena, Hukari went 3.1 innings and struck out a career high seven batters.
So far on the year, Hukari is 3-0 with a save, has 13.2 innings pitched and has struck out 17 versus just four walks. It's still very early in the season, but, up to this point, Hukari, who as a sophomore walked more batters than he struck out, has been the most dominant arm coming out of the UCF bullpen.
So what's changed?
Well, for one thing, Hukari is physically stronger than he was in 2013. As a sophomore, his fastball was consistently around the mid 80s, whereas this year it's in the upper 80s and occasionally finds the low 90s.
"He's throwing harder, his curveball's moving more, his changeup's awesome, so he deserves everything right now. He's doing awesome," Savinon said.
As much as the velocity helps, Hukari thinks that cutting down on the walks and hitting his spots are the biggest ways in which he's improved.
"I think the biggest thing has been just commanding each pitch," he said.
Hukari also doesn't like to understate not just the physical development, but the mental development he's had as a pitcher. The UCF team motto this season is, "Everything matters." Hukari takes that phrase very literally when he's on the mound.
"[I'm] much more mature I would say," Hukari said. "Just working on separating each pitch, each pitch matters and you have to make sure you separate each pitch that you want to make and when one gets away from you you can't let the next one get away from you."
Last weekend UCF finished up its biggest home series of the year to date against Ole Miss. In game one, Hukari pitched a three-up-three-down ninth inning and notched the win after JoMarcos Woods hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the frame. The win moved UCF to 9-0, which was the best start in program history.
Then, in game two, Hukari pitched the final 2.2 innings for UCF and got the save. After recording the final out, he jumped toward his teammates and spiked his glove in excitement, showing that he is a very emotional player when between the lines.
This natural emotion that he has must have made it especially hard to watch games last season, knowing that he couldn't try and help his team win.
"It was very difficult, almost unbearable at times, but I know that God has a plan and I just wanted to follow through," Hukari said.
Moving forward, Hukari, along with Parker Thomas and Drew Faintich, make up a trio of southpaws coming out of the UCF bullpen that are likely to be used heavily by head coach Terry Rooney. The 11-1 start that the Knights had was definitely thanks in large part to the bullpen. Four of the wins came by just one run, meaning there were many difficult situations faced early.
UCF is currently ranked No. 9 in the country, and all of the players, but Hukari especially, want that ranking to mean that there are many more big opportunities to play in.
"We know we're one of the best teams in the country, we're going to keep showing it everyday," Hukari said.
Colin Bell is a Senior Staff Writer and Baseball Beat Writer for the Central Florida Future.