UCF returned a lot of veterans to the roster this season whom it expected to lean on heavily throughout the year, but Cre Finfrock wasn't one of them.
Finfrock, a true freshman out of Martin County High School, has been just as valuable as anyone for the No. 7 ranked team in the nation.
"He's been phenomenal; he's been unbelievable for us," said UCF senior infielder Dylan Moore. "To have so much poise on the mound, the kid's really good, he's got really good stuff, he's got a professional approach and I think every time he goes on the mound we have a chance to win the ballgame. It's a really good feeling playing behind him."
So far this season, Moore's assessment has been correct. Finfrock is 5-0 in five starts, with a 1.86 ERA and has 25 strikeouts to just eight walks.
Last week, with two midweek games for the second week in a row, UCF head coach Terry Rooney elected to use usual Friday night starter Zach Rodgers in a relief appearance on Wednesday against Florida State. With Rodgers not able to start a game during the weekend, it moved the Knights' rotation up a day, and Finfrock became the first UCF freshman to start the first game of a regular season weekend series since Ben Lively in 2011. Lively went on to be drafted in the 4th round of the MLB Draft, and is now considered one of the top prospects in the Philadelphia Phillies organization. Lively was also the last freshman to be 5-0 for UCF.
Not only did Finfrock start, he had his best performance of the year to date. He went seven innings, gave up only one run on one hit and struck out 11.
"Honestly, this was the first game that I felt all my stuff was there," Finfrock said.
UCF has no more weeks this season with more than one midweek game so it remains to be seen how Rooney will handle the rotation. He may go back to Rodgers on Fridays, or he may stick with Finfrock and have Rodgers do what he did last year — work as a utility guy, mostly coming out of the bullpen but occasionally starting.
Whatever ends up happening, one thing that is for sure is that the great start Finfrock is having as a Knight is not coming as a surprise to people who knew about the right-hander stepping into his college career. Coming out of high school, he was drafted in the 26th round by the Milwaukee Brewers, and was ranked the 76th best recruit nationally by Perfect Game.
"Cre's a special pitcher. He's got a tremendous future ahead of him and he's off to a great start," Rooney said. "We'll see what happens in our rotation. I'm not sure yet as we continue to move forward."
If you talk to people around the UCF team, one of the things that they often mention about Finfrock is his approach.
"I think Cre is very mature for a freshman," Rooney said. "We're not even referring to anybody as first-year guys now. A lot of these guys, they've got a lot of experience. He's had several starts under his belt, so he's not a freshman anymore — he knows what it takes."
They also say that he isn't overwhelmed in any situation, such as starting a game on Friday night, or against a ranked opponent like he did against No. 11 Maryland in only his second start, when he went 5.2 innings and got the win.
"When I was growing up, my dad always taught me to just control myself, to keep all my emotions inside when I'm out on the mound," Finfrock said.
So far in his short college career, Finfrock is off to a great start, having won every game he's pitched.
But the season, just like Finfrock, is still young. A lot could happen for the Knights over the next two months, and a lot could happen for their young right-hander over the next two years.
As of now, though, while UCF is still winning most of its games, Finfrock is winning all of his.
Colin Bell is a Senior Staff Writer for the Central Florida Future. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.