If you were to tell any of the UCF fans that had left Jay Bergman Field Friday night during the sixth inning, that UCF would come back and beat the Siena Saints 10-9 after allowing an eight run inning, they, like everyone else who witnessed the colossal downfall of the Knights' defense, would probably not believe you.
However, that is why they are spectators and not stepping up to the plate underneath bright lights. That’s why freshman infielder Michael Mika and junior third baseman Kam Gellinger have the privilege to wear the uniforms and hold the bats and baseballs in their hands.
For five innings of the 2016 season and home opener, sophomore right handed pitcher Cre Finfrock couldn’t have pitched better. He was the star of the show, striking out eight, walking three, allowing only one hit and no runs. Mika was just the sidekick who came and broke a third inning tie with the first solo shot of not only his young career but also of the UCF season. One run was enough to keep Siena quiet with the blast heading over the left field fence.
"You don't really think about these things," Mika said, regarding his home run that he hit. "It kind of is just at the moment and it's just an adrenaline rush. You just feel it all at the same time and it is great being swarmed by all of my teammates."
The Saints decided enough was enough. An early single to right field put a runner on first and a pitch to the plate to the next batter, freshman third baseman Jordan Folgers, was sent soaring over left field. The damage didn’t end there though with a 2-2 tie tallied up. Two errors and a walk later set up a no-out, bases-loaded situation spelling out disaster.
Finfrock’s near perfect performance was spoiled and head coach Terry Rooney made an inevitable call to the bullpen. Junior right handed pitcher, Campbell Scholl lasted long enough to face three batters, giving up three runs off singles, two of which traveling to center field. It was only three RBI’s later that junior right handed pitcher Juan Pimentel would let the Knights walk to the dugout trailing 8-2.
"There was no panic in the dugout. Guys supported each other," Rooney said. "Forget about the sixth inning. [Finfrock] pitched great and was clutch for five innings. He threw some great pitches ... At the end of the day, Cre was great and I'd say don't even worry about the sixth inning."
After three innings at the plate, and three runs gained to try and combat the beating that UCF received in the sixth, the Knights decided to give Siena a taste of their own medicine.
"Coach Rooney always says tempo is everything, attitude is everything, good body language and we just continued to show positive energy. Like I said, we just came out on top," Mika said.
UCF loaded the bases after five consecutive singles and two RBI’s in the bottom of the ninth for a Cinderella story-like scenario. The words “walk-off” and “grand slam” traveled throughout the stands and press box with every runner that made it to a new base.
Kam Gellinger, the man who didn’t hit a single home run in all of his 2015 campaign, made the score 9-5 earlier in the game with a solo shot. With runners on the bases, Gellinger blasted a ball to left field for a two-RBI double.
"I worked on my hitting a lot. My defense was good. Kloss (assistant coach Ryan Klosterman) told me to swing hard, be loose and keep going," Gellinger said.
It was only fitting that the next player to walk up with runners on second and third would be the freshman who started the crazy night of baseball, Matthew Mika. With a walk-off opportunity in his hands, he swung at a pitch, sent a line drive over the gap in between first and second, allowing the winning run to cross the plate.
"It felt good," Mika said. "I wasn't really expecting the shaving cream. Coming out opening day for my first night, I couldn't do it without my teammates."
Terry Rooney is now 8-0 for season openers as the Knights head coach.
Evan Abramson is the Sports Editor for the Central Florida Future. You can follow him at @Evan_Abramson and email him at EvanA@centralfloridafuture.com.