If baseball season is a marathon, UCF is slowing down as it starts to head into the home stretch.
After starting the season 20-5, the UCF baseball team is now 26-16 (5-7) and has fallen from being ranked as high as No. 6 in the nation to unranked in all but one national poll.
Last weekend, UCF lost its third-consecutive weekend-conference series to Tulane, and is now seventh in the American Athletic Conference after being chosen as the second-best team in the preseason.
When UCF was winning, it was due in large part to its offense. At the conclusion of that 20-5 start, the Knights were first in the country in runs with 219, first in the country in batting average at .333, first in the country in home runs with 35 and first in the country in slugging percentage at .538 — more than 40 points higher than any other team.
UCF was averaging 8.76 runs per game during that start. Over the last 17 games, in which it has gone 6-11, it is averaging just 3.88. After going the first 37 games without a shutout, UCF was shut out twice against Tulane, the second one ending in a 10-0 mercy-rule defeat.
The 5-7 start to conference play could have been much worse. After starting the year as the No. 1 pitcher for the Knights, Zach Rodgers was moved to the bullpen, partly for lack of ability to pitch late into the game.
Over the last three weekends, Rodgers has been back in the rotation and has thrown three complete games and allowed just two runs. His three starts are UCF's only three conference wins since their first conference series of the year.
In April, UCF has only won one game that Rodgers didn't pitch.
And that is a good reason why UCF is struggling.
Early in the season, the pitching staff was doing all right — struggling some games and putting on strong performances in others. But that was when everyone was hitting, and the struggles on the mound were covered up.
Now, during a down time for the offense, the pitching staff's troubles are being exploited. UCF started the season 19-1 in games where they allowed six runs or less; in April, it is 3-5 in such games.
Fans of UCF baseball may remember a similar stretch last season, though it came much earlier. After starting 6-2 last year, UCF then lost nine of its next 10 games. But then it got hot again, and won 12 of its next 13.
The only difference is that expectations for UCF were much higher this season. It returned all eight starting position players and was ranked in the preseason. It didn't disappoint with the fast start.
But now, it's in the midst of the toughest stretch of the season; and with 14 games remaining, is running out of time to turn it around before it finds itself just barely out of the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row.
Colin Bell is a Senior Staff Writer for the Central Florida Future. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.