It is always a good thing to see construction, renovations and improvements happening on a college campus. It signifies growth and progress; it also allows students to lay their eyes on where their tuition is going.
With the nickname ‘Under Construction Forever’, UCF students are no strangers to seeing new projects being undertaken just as quickly as old projects are finished. UCF is home to some of the nations best facilities for both student athletes and the student body because of their endless commitment to building a top-tier campus for the country’s second biggest enrollment class.
Most recently, the UCF baseball diamond, Jay Bergman Field, underwent the first phase of an expansion that added 1,100 seats featuring an upper deck along the first base chalk stripe. While construction workers labored tirelessly to complete the first phase before Opening Night of the 2012 baseball season, the Knights baseball foreman and head coach, Terry Rooney, has been quietly building something awfully spectacular between the foul posts.
The 2012 Knights baseball team has exploded onto the scene and has proven that they can play ball with just about anyone. Sporting a 24-6 overall record and a national ranking of 13, the Knights are garnishing considerable attention from other teams with their eyes on Omaha.
The well-oiled baseball machine that calls The Berg home was not something that Coach Rooney inherited, it is something he has been crafting since setting foot in Orlando in 2009. If growth and progress is the UCF theme, well Coach Rooney fits right into that agenda and the proof is in the numbers.
In 2009, with Rooney’s first bout as a head coach, after assistant coaching the LSU Tigers the year prior, the Knights managed a disheartening 22-35 record. Rooney didn’t spare a moment and continued to mold his team into the contenders he knew they could be. The 2010 season had a nearly polar opposite result as the Knights finished 33-22, but Rooney had more work to do.
Building on his record flip from the prior season, the 2011 Knights got a little taste of what Coach Rooney has been cooking with a regular season sweep of the top ranked Florida Gators and a trip to the NCAA CWS Regional in Tallahassee, backed by a 39-23 record.
Just what exactly is Coach Rooney cooking though? Rooney has made it clear since his tenure began here at UCF that he will stop at nothing to craft and coach a team to the College World Series in Omaha. After the Regional and Super Regional portion of the CWS, making it to Omaha is the equivalent of making it to the Elite-8 in the March Madness basketball tournament.
The 2012 Knights are primed to make a serious run at punching their tickets to Omaha this year. There is no question that UCF has the talent to accomplish such a feat, but baseball is all about having the right pieces in the right place.
The biggest question the Knights have faced this year has been getting the right pitching rotation. Coach Rooney, being a pitcher in college and the Knights pitching coach, has toiled with the order all season long trying to find the right balance.
While the back end of the bullpen has been well established all season, set-up man Roman Madrid and closer Joe Rogers have been nearly unhittable with the respective ERA’s of 0.38 and 1.14. It’s the starting rotation that has been the biggest riddle.
Brian Adkins came into this season projected to be the No. 1 guy after finishing last season with 88 innings pitched and an ERA of 4.23, but Adkins has been inconsistent thus far.
Ben Lively has grown into a very effective pitcher with a 4-0 record, 3.44 ERA and a team high 38 strikeouts. The team will rely on Lively continuing to improve and put up quality starts as the season continues.
Freshman Garrett Nuss has been outstanding as a middle inning reliever this season. Coach Rooney has really found a niche for him as he boasts an ERA of 1.67 with 30 strikeouts over 27 innings pitched. Garrett will come in during the fourth, fifth or sixth inning if a starter finds himself in a jam, and so far, few pitchers have been better at working out of the mess.
Eric Skoglund is another freshman who stands at a towering 6’7″ and has a significant presence on the mound. His 4-1 record is backed up by his 2.15 ERA and 30 strikeouts as well. The performances of Skoglund and Nuss have been pivotal in the success of the Knights this season.
While early in the season it seems like the Knights may have had too many choices at pitcher to find the ideal set up, they have hit their stride and Coach Rooney seems to have made all of the right moves. After holding eighth ranked Miami to only one run to earn a win in Coral Gables, it seems like anything is possible for this year’s Knights team.
If the bats continue to pop and the pitchers continue to keep teams on their heels, this is a Knights squad that can shake things up in the CWS at years end. While the Knights are anxious to play for whatever they can at the end of the season, they aren’t getting ahead of themselves and continue to focus on one game at a time.
Next up at the plate is back-to-back home games starting with Florida A&M Tuesday night at 6:30 and Wednesday night against Bethune-Cookman at 6:30.
This years Knights have the potential to be something special; don’t miss out.