Photo Courtesy: UCF Athletics
By: Leo Rodriguez
UCF Baseball: Knights drop Conference opening series to the Bulls
UCF Baseball’s weekend series against USF started off in disappointment. Ruddy Gomez took the mound for the Knights on Friday night and put up a solid start in which he only allowed two runs. The righty finished with seven strikeouts over seven innings pitched. In Friday’s game, it was not just the defense letting Gomez down, but the bats went absolutely silent as they were shut out by USF pitcher Ethan Brown who had 12 strikeouts versus the Knights.
While we are typically used to the Knights winning on Fridays and losing the next two, this weekend the Knights first two games in the series resulted in losses. UCF’s hitting took the day off on Friday and Saturday while the pitching faltered on Sunday, even in a win. An internal tug of war. Bottom line: The Knights start Conference play at 1-2.
Coming into this series, USF ranked 235th in Division One baseball for earned run average. One would think considering UCF’s offensive prowess, they would pounce on every single pitch. That wasn’t the case. “I think we’ve panicked in our last few series,” UCF Head Coach Greg Lovelady said. “Guys were feeling a little pressed in the box.”
UCF came in ranked 6th in the nation for home runs, yet only hit two homers coming from none other than their two power hitters in Ben McCabe and Tom Josten. The Knights must get to playing offensively like they did on Sunday afternoon vs. USF, meaning small ball baseball, making contact, and putting it in play if they want a chance to beat the top teams in the American Athletic Conference, such as this week’s opponent, ECU. Swinging for the fences will only cut it against teams like Siena and Dartmouth. Opponents with better pitching loom.
Pitching Showed Up!
Pitching has been the culprit of everything that goes wrong on Saturdays. This time around, that was the last of UCF’s problems. Jacob Marlowe, who has been the Knights’ 3rd best arm this season, gave up six hits and three earned runs, one of those for a home run. Even with a solid pitching outing from Marlowe on a Saturday it makes you question what is the mentality of the team going into the second game of the series? This weekend, UCF figured out its pitching on Saturday, but the bats just were not coming alive. UCF has used five different starters on Saturdays and this is not a good formula when you have two arms that have proven to be reliable starters in Gomez and Dom Stagliano. After Marlowe’s outing on Saturday, he deserves a nod for future weekends. Ben Vespi returned from injury and came out of the bullpen sharp and now looks to slowly integrate himself into the starting rotation. This would be a huge positive, but we’ll have to see exactly where he’s at in the coming weeks.
Ruddy Gomez Deserves Better
When an offensive dominant team just takes the day off, it has to be frustrating for a pitcher. Ruddy Gomez looked solid on Friday as he went seven innings with six strikeouts and two earned runs. UCF’s offense has ranked in the Top 50 of college baseball in many categories, but you’d hardly know that from Friday’s and Saturday’s performances. Through 17 innings, the Knights plated two in the bottom of the 8th on Saturday but that proved too little, too late.
A trend to look out for is offensive slow starts to the game. They have really been a theme for UCF this season. Perhaps this creeps into the heads of pitchers, but regardless of the offensive starts, pitchers have to take care of business.
Next Up: UCF (17-11) will travel down I-95 to match up with Coach Lovelady’s Alma Mater, the University of Miami (#20 USA Today) at Alex Rodriguez Baseball Park on Tuesday April 4 at 6 PM. Then it’s on the Greenville, North Carolina as the Knights begin a three-game series at ECU (#16 USA Today) on Thursday.