GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The No. 9 ranked Knights looked completely out of character on Wednesday night during a 10-2 loss to the No. 2 Florida Gators.
“We just didn’t play well today. We just didn’t play the fundamentals of the game today,” said Head Coach Rooney after the game.
A team that starts out 10-0 does so with painstaking attention to detail, mental sharpness and fundamental baseball. The Knights committed four errors while allowing two runs to score on passed balls and one on a throw down to second that never had a chance to catch the runner before sailing into center field.
No part of their game fired smoothly on the road to the worst loss of the year.
Florida was aggressive at the plate and on the basepaths as well, making UCF pay deeply for their unusually out-of-focus play.
Freshman Eric Hepple took the mound for the first time as a starter but couldn’t come close to replicating the success fellow freshman Kyle Marsh had against the No. 2 team. From the onset Hepple appeared not long for the spotlight, finding early trouble with a two-run first inning before being pulled in the second after 1.2 innings pitched.
His exit from the game would begin a carousel on the bump for UCF. Six pitchers saw action, with only Brad Rowley pitching a full two innings.
The Knights’ offense – averaging just under 12 hits a game before the series – was unable to notch a base hit until Dylan Moore’s fourth inning solo home run, and came up with only five all game. Eugene Vasquez added his own one run bomb in the eighth inning, but the game was well out of reach at 10-2 after he crossed the plate.
It was a different environment playing in front of an empty crowd that made McKethian Stadium seem cavernous through nine torturous innings. There was no buzz from the crowd, no trucks in the outfield, not even a student section as most Gators are away on Spring Break.
Coach Rooney refuted the claim that the environment was a factor in his player’s performance, insisting that though the UCF faithful can energize anybody, this team is just as electric anywhere they play.
“I don’t think I have to motivate our kids to play, I mean that’s for sure,” he said. “I think every single day we talk about energy in our program and bringing energy to our program every single day that we play.”
A team ranked No. 2 in the nation should never be taken lightly, so Florida’s fundamentally sound play surprised nobody in the loss. It was the disturbing change of play from the UCF squad that had captured national attention.
Fatigue may have been a significant factor for UCF after a double-header on Sunday that went until the last possible minute and a hard-fought three and a half hour game Tuesday night in Orlando. Again however, Rooney wouldn’t place the blame anywhere outside of pure baseball reasoning.
“To a certain degree, but that has nothing to do with whether we would have won or lost that game,” he said. “Certainly as a coach it’s something you look at when you’re making lineups but listen, these guys, it is what it is, on Sunday they played 16 innings and we had two mid-week games.”
The Knights will only have a few days to shake the loss off, gearing up to host Columbia at home this weekend for a three game series. Zach Rodgers will get the start on Friday night, with the first pitch scheduled for 6:30 p.m.