The Knights baseball team has been on fire since the start of its 2016 campaign, sweeping four straight wins against the likes of Siena and Bethune-Cookman.
Though it has not been the toughest four-game stretch, it has been a positive sign for a team that lost 13 seniors last season and is now averaging 12 runs per game while holding its opponents to just 4.5.
“The key to success early on is that these guys are playing like a team,” head coach Terry Rooney said. “It may sound cliché to say, but it is really the truth, and that is something that we have just really been trying to hammer home since the fall.”
Of the eight field players who have started all four games for UCF, only one is batting below the .300 mark. The team’s collective batting average sits at .364, contributing to a 4-0 record to start the season.
But the biggest surprise came in the form of freshman right-fielder Matthew Mika. Through the first four games, Mika batted .389 with two home runs and six RBIs.
“He has done a good job,” Rooney said. “He certainly can’t do more than what he has done, and we knew that he was going to be a good player. More than that, it is what he does as a teammate. You look at him, he has got life, he has got energy, he is always encouraging guys, and he is kind of a spark plug, so he brings a lot to the table for us.”
The team’s pitching staff, however, remains a concern, with two players out with injuries.
“We are down two arms,” Rooney said. ”Kyle Marsh is out for the year with Tommy John. He is really one of our best guys, and Nick McCoy is out. We are not sure of the status of it, but he [is] out for a little while. We have got these two midweek games, and you can throw a lot of arms.”
But leads in early season games make things easier, junior right-handed pitcher Robby Howell said.
“It is easier to come in, and you can just pound the strike zone, and you do not have to nibble around the zone,” Howell said. “It’s great when the offense goes off like that.”
Despite the holes left by Marsh and McCoy, players are staying positive.
“We know we have got a good pitching staff regardless of who comes out on the mound,” junior left-fielder Austin Griffin said. “They are all ready to throw. Some injuries hurt us, but we know that there are guys behind them.”
As they move forward through the season, the Knights hope to learn about themselves and get a sense of who is going to fit into what role. The upcoming road trip to Texas will be a big test for the team before it takes on Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Texas State and Michigan State to finish out February.
“I think that this year it is going to be great for us,” Rooney said. “When you have got a team of a bunch of new first year players, for us to go on the road to experience a tournament to experience a weekend together, it’s really going to help us down the road, so I feel good about it.”
This is an important stretch for the team as it faces the No.1-ranked Florida Gators in a home-and-away series March 1 and March 2.
“We always look forward to playing the big guys,” Griffin said. “UF is going to be one of those big guys we face in the country, and you look forward to playing those guys.”
Matthew Saunders is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @ClassicSmit or email him at MatthewS@CentralFloridaFuture.com