On March 23rd, the UCF Baseball team stood at 20-5. Fresh off taking two of three at home against Presbyterian, including an 18-4 wipeout in the rubber game, the Knights moved up one spot to #6 in Baseball America’s poll, and was in the top 11 in the other four major college baseball rankings. Terry Rooney‘s Knights looked destined to walk down the Road to Omaha.
Since then, the dream season has become a nightmare.
Starting with a 13-9 loss at 11-11 Jacksonville the next night, UCF went on to lose 20 of their last 31 games.
In conference play, the Knights lost three of their eight series, going 10-14 in The American. Outside of conference play, UCF dropped seven of eight against teams within the state.
In the span of 57 days, UCF went from sixth in the nation to seventh in its own conference.
It has been a strange collapse. So strange, in fact, that L.A. Dodgers pitcher Brett Anderson felt the odd need to chime in (although he apparently deleted his tweets later):
The battle ground that is Twitter and all its weirdness. Brett Anderson and UCF battling it out for supremacy. pic.twitter.com/53FPTEDWbV
— Aaron Berlin (@Aaron_Berlin) May 11, 2015
Despite the implosion, UCF still led the conference in hitting, slugging, hits and home runs, and finished second in on-base percentage and runs. Six regulars finished with averages over .300 (although JoMarcos Woods is gone for the season with an injury – a devastating blow), and five of them were in the top-20 in the AAC. Three – SS Dylan Moore, 3B Tommy Williams and OF Erik Barber – made the AAC All-Conference First Team (Woods landed on the Second Team).
The pitching is where things have gone awry. Despite All-AAC First-Teamer Zach Rodgers‘ outstanding performance this year (10-0, 2-17 ERA, 90 Ks, .220 opponents’ average), UCF has given up the second-most runs, second-most hits, second-highest ERA, and second-highest opponents’ batting average in the conference.
Put simply, the Knights score plenty of runs, but give up too many more. And that came back to haunt them in the second half of the season.
Now UCF has a chance to redeem itself in Clearwater in the American Athletic Conference Tournament, but it won’t be easy. At 31-25 overall, UCF finished just two games out of third place in the league, but in a crowded middle, they landed in the seven seed, in the lower double-elimination pod against #2 East Carolina, #3 Tulane and #6 UConn – teams against whom the Knights are a combined 2-7 in 2015.
So the task is clear: Keep hitting, start pitching, and the Knights could redeem themselves from their hot start and subsequent implosion and get into the NCAA Tournament. Such is college baseball: When you get hot, anything is possible.
But fail to do those, and the Knights, with 13 seniors playing their final days in black and gold, will have to face some difficult questions heading into 2016.
The Knights start the AAC Tournament Wednesday at 11 a.m. against 2-seed East Carolina. You can catch the game live over the web via the American Digital Network.