Future is bright for UCF baseball


Bryce Brimhall / Valencia Voice

Zach Rodgers will be one of the likely candidates to replace Eric Skolglund as the Friday night ace next season.

As college baseball teams across the country finish up their last-minute preparations for the Division I Baseball Regionals on Friday, the UCF Knights will be in the early stages of their offseason.

The NCAA announced on Monday the teams that will make up the Field of 64, but the Knights were among the teams that were left out of the mix.

“I think that we were deserving of a bid,” said Knights head coach Terry Rooney. “We had numerous opportunities to separate ourselves and get a few more wins and better our RPI throughout the entire season. We had opportunities to win championships and we had opportunities to win a few close games but unfortunately we didn’t do it.”

Perhaps the biggest area in which the Knights faltered was in games decided by one run. Out of the 21 games decided by one run, the Knights won just seven of them. The roster features a lot of younger players, which Rooney pointed to as a contributing factor for losing so many of those games.

“We talked in the end of the year meeting and so much of the year was simply designed for learning how to win and learning what it takes to play at this level,” said Rooney. “For the first part of the year I think that was part of it and I think at the end of the year we didn’t lose as many one-run games, but we still played in them and I just think that’s what college baseball is.”

While the Knights suffered growing pains with so many younger players this season, the team is excited about their future with many players likely to return.

The current roster features just one senior and outside of a handful of guys that could potentially leave for the MLB draft, Rooney expects around 95 percent of the team to return next season.

“Usually at the end of year in team meetings we don’t talk a lot about that but this year we have a lot of returning players,” said Rooney. “You have two choices when you have that large of upper classmen coming back: you can continue to do the same exact things or you can come back with a little bit more of a determined mission to continue to get better.”

AAC Pitcher of the Year Eric Skoglund is among the players that could leave the team in favor of the draft. Skoglund is currently listed at No. 95 on MLB.com’s list of top 100 prospects.

“When you look at what he did, he certainly gave us an opportunity to compete in every single outing,” said Rooney on Skoglund’s season. “From a scouting standpoint you never know, but that sounds right on that he has an opportunity to be a very good draft pick.”

With so many players returning next season, Rooney is going to be looking for more consistency from his pitching staff to lead the Knights back into the postseason.

“Our bullpen did a terrific job this year,” Rooney said. “When you look at it they had to pitch a lot because our starting pitching as the year went on wasn’t very good as far as on the weekends; it was inconsistent.

“We had to go to our bullpen numerous times in the second, third and fourth inning. That plays a big role in the bigger picture with how many guys you have to use but I thought they did a good job.”