UCF receiving top-25 votes, will take on Ivy League champs next
Published: Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, March 2, 2011 16:03
Sophomore Chris Taladay proved why he was the Conference USA Freshman of the Year in his first at-bat against South Alabama.
Taladay, who spent the first four games of the season recovering from an injury, sent the first pitch he saw to left field for an RBI-single. The sophomore will look to keep up his hot start versus Dartmouth this weekend.
"Chris Taladay, boy it was great to have him back," said head coach Terry Rooney. "The returning Conference USA Newcomer of the Year, and he just stepped right in and in his first at-bat he got a hit and an RBI for us and obviously had a great game on (Feb. 27) against Alabama. Chris Taladay is clearly one of the best players in C-USA and we're excited to have him back."
The Knights, still at the start of a 13-game homestand that began on March 2, host the defending Ivy League champions this weekend.
"Dartmouth is an outstanding team," Rooney said. "I just told our players that they were an NCAA Regional team last year. Not only did they get to the Regionals, they won a game [against FIU, 15-9]."
The Big Green starts its season in Central Florida.
"I think what all our players have to know is that they see that it's an outstanding club," Rooney said. "Coach [Bob] Whalen, the head coach, has been there a long time and I have a tremendous amount of respect for him."
Junior Danny Winkler will start for the Knights for the third Friday in a row, Matt Collins will grab the Saturday start and freshman Ben Lively, who had his first career start and win against Alabama, will throw Sunday.
Rooney said that UCF's starting pitching has been solid and that five guys are battling for the starting spots. Brian Adkins and Ray Hanson are also vying for starting positions, which will increase once the Knights start playing two weekday games.
While the pitching has been solid, Rooney is looking for the starting pitchers to improve in two areas.
"The one area we need to improve upon is our starting pitchers must go deeper in the games," Rooney said, which has less to do with endurance and more to do with efficiency. "They've got to go longer. They've got to get into the sixth or seventh inning. That helps them and it helps our bullpen. The second thing pitching wise is we've got to get a lefty out of the pen that can come in and get left-handed batters out."
What to watch for
— UCF (6-1) suffered its first loss at the South Alabama Classic against Southeastern Louisiana. Both teams are receiving votes in the NCBWA rankings.
— Three different players are batting .444 or better. Darnell Sweeney, the C-USA Hitter of the Week, leads all Knights and C-USA with a .500 average. Taladay is batting .455 and Derek Luciano is batting .444.
— All nine starters are batting at least .310.
— Now that Taladay is back, he's back. The C-USA Freshman of the Year hit two home runs and a double against Alabama on Feb. 27.
— As Rooney said, the offense is the strength of the team. In the past four games, the Knights have hit 22 doubles. Leading the pack is Sweeney with five and Luciano with four. Designated hitter and pitcher D.J. Hicks has had three.
— Dartmouth lefty Kyle Hunter, ranked fourth in Ivy League ERA last season, ranked ninth nationally in fewest walks issued per nine innings. The standout sophomore was also a high school classmate and teammate of UCF outfielder/catcher Ryan Breen.