ORLANDO, Fla. – Head Coach Terry Rooney is now 8-0 in season openers during his era as the face of the program after a sneaky 10-9 victory wrought from a late-inning charge.
“Epitome of a team win right there,” Rooney praised once he had a chance to speak with the team.
“There was no panic in the dugout, guys supported each other, all of the things that we’ve talked about.”
Freshman Matthew Mika drove in the winning run with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the ninth, though the entire team deserves credit for pulling out this win.
“He’s a great player, we’ve been talking about the contributions that he can make,” said Rooney, continuing, “He’s without question one of the best freshmen in the country.”
Opening night starter and projected ace Cre Finfrock tossed five innings while managing to strikeout nine and walk four with 92 pitches – a number consistent with what Rooney allows from any starter on the season’s first Friday night.
“For five innings that guy pitched in the clutch, he did a terrific job, he threw some big time pitches when he needed to and I thought for the first five innings he was awesome,” Rooney reinforced.
After five frames of offensive silence, Siena broke the game wide open with an eight-run, ten hit, no-walk inning bolstered by a pair of Knights’ errors.
It all started with back to back hits; a single down the right field line immediately brought to fruition with a two-run laser shot over the left field fence – the only two of Finfrock’s three earned runs.
Logan Heiser furthered inning’s ruinous fire two batters later with a rushed throw to first base on a bunt that should have been a routine sacrifice out, and then Finfrock walked a batter to load the bases with no outs to end his evening on the bump.
Campbell Scholl was highly ineffective in dousing the flames in relief. All three of the batters he faced notched him for a hit for the tune of three total runs, two of them earned. Not until Scholl’s night ended and Juan Pimental’s began were the Knights able to stem the bleeding.
“I wasn’t sure what to do with Juan,” Rooney said about his relief pitcher’s role headed into the game. “I mean he’s one of our best guys. I thought about starting him, I thought about closing him, I thought about everything.”
Rooney went on to say he would be using Juan out of the bullpen this weekend to gauge his stuff at this level and to make sure one of his best pitchers would be available in multiple games. It can be safe to assume we will see more of Pimental before the series is over.
UCF fought back in small bursts with two runs in the bottom of the sixth, one more in the eighth and even showed life in the ninth inning. After closing the gap to only three runs, Ryan Krile came to the plate with no outs and the bases loaded representing the go-ahead run.
Krile singled to right, driving in a run of his own to really put UCF back on the board, 9-7 and the bases still loaded.
Kam Gellinger, one of few players with significant playing time from last season, was able to capitalize on the made-for-television hero moment. On a 2-0 count Gellinger ripped a double and drove in two runs to tie the game at nine.
Matthew Mika, playing his first game as a UCF Knight, was the hero in the final hour. Already hot for the day with a homerun and two RBIs, Mika slammed a single into right-center field to seal the deal.
Rooney said that this team will need time to identify itself completely, but that the squad is competitive as any he’s ever coached – dating back to the black and gold game.
“We’ve been talking about the strength or what we hope is the strength of this team – the business-like approach, the confidence, playing one pitch at a time,” Rooney said.
Robby Howell will get the start Saturday night as UCF attempts to sweep Siena for the eighth time in their last nine meetings; the Knights are 46-4 all-time against the Saints.