On Friday, the Knights (15-12) will begin conference play against Memphis in hopes of surging to the top of the American Athletic Conference.
However, the Knights are faced with a series of injuries that have plagued the team, sidelining key players and forcing the arrival of fresh legs, arms and bats on the diamond.
“In 19 years of coaching, I have never had injuries like this. I have never seen anything like it,” head coach Terry Rooney said. “It’s baseball injuries. It’s not like somebody does something weird. It just, it happens.”
As conference play gets underway this weekend, the Knights hope to get back some key players in the offense.
Junior catcher Matt Diorio, who has been out with a thumb injury he suffered against Bethune-Cookman earlier this season, is expected to make his return to the lineup this weekend.
Freshman Matthew Mika is also expected to return for the start of conference play.
Mika has been a pleasant surprise for the Knights as a newcomer and has been a versatile outfielder and provided offense at some clutch times this season, including his time spent in the opening series of the season against Siena.
Even with the return of Diorio and Mika, there are still some players battling injuries.
Logan Heiser had hip surgery last summer, and Rooney said they will be careful with how often he will play.
Brennan Bozeman had the same injury as Diorio and will be out at least four weeks.
“We have had a couple injuries here and there, so everybody has got to be ready to step in wherever,” junior infielder Austin Griffin said. “That has kind of been the motto of this team this year. Everybody has got to be ready for their chance and when they get it, they have got to capitalize on it.”
The Knights will play their next seven out of eight games on the road, including two three-game series against conference foes Memphis and Houston.
Then the Knights will likely see a full crowd present as USF travels to Jay Bergman Field for a three-game series.
And with the Knights preparing for the upcoming conference schedule, they have found surging offensive numbers coming from junior college transfers Eli Putnam, Ryan Crile and Austin Griffin.
Putnam is leading the team in batting average, hitting an impressive .361 in the 21 games he has played.
Crile has started in every game for the Knights and leads the team in hits, boasting a .327 batting average.
Griffin has garnered the nickname “Grand Slam Griffin,” coined by Orlando Sports Daily, after becoming the team expert in belting long balls, producing 32 RBIs and eight home runs, leading the team in both categories.
Three of Griffin’s home runs have been grand slams, and he’s maintained a .990 fielding percentage.
“That’s huge to have a guy [Griffin] like that step up and take the power role. It’s awesome,” junior pitcher Robby Howell said. “He’s had it the entire year. He has been hitting balls out and doubles everywhere. He is just a good hitter.”
In the game against Jacksonville on Tuesday night, Griffin came out of the game limping at first base after a play on defense.
Griffin was seen holding his right hamstring before leaving the field, reported Tim Briggs of Orlando Sports Daily.
Coaches and the Athletics Communications office do not yet know definitely if Griffin will be ready to help take on Memphis on Friday.
Pitching is something the Knights have yet to solidify when it comes to a third starting pitcher.
Sophomore Cre Finfrock and junior Robby Howell have been the Friday and Saturday starters, respectively, but that third starter has yet to emerge.
Junior Juan Pimentel has started four games this season and could be the guy to step into that role on Championship Sunday, a term coined by Rooney, who wants to put in all the effort to finish out the week strong.
“Up at Florida State, [Pimentel] pitched great,” Rooney said. “He had one inning where he gave up a bunch of runs, and besides that, he was almost flawless. And I thought against Miami, he really pitched almost as good as you can.
“I’m not sure when [Nick] McCoy is getting back. He hit a little bit of a setback last week so I think he is a few weeks away, so obviously we have got to establish a Sunday starter going into conference.”
Matthew Saunders is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. You can follow him on Twitter at @ClassicSmit and email him at MatthewS@CentralFloridaFuture.com