UCF Baseball set sights on NCAA regional bid


Bryce Brimhall / Valencia Voice

UCF Baseball was ranked No. 22 in Baseball America’s preseason poll going into the 2015 season.

There are few worse feelings in sports than coming up short and it’s one thing to think you came up just short and it’s a completely different feeling when one of the biggest networks in sports shows a graphic confirming that you just missed the cut.

That feeling is well known around the UCF Baseball locker room, as the Knights were included as one of the first four teams out for a NCAA regional berth in 2014 after going 36-23 and being one win away from playing in the American Athletic Conference tournament championship.

UCF players don’t need to look far to be reminded of last year’s tournament snub, as head coach Terry Rooney has placed photos of the “First 4 Out,” graphic above all the players lockers to remind them all of the unfinished business they have going into the 2015 season.

“We’re an experienced team for a lot of reasons, but we have a lot of guys that are seniors on our team who in my opinion had the opportunity to sign professional baseball contracts…,” said Rooney at media day. “But they knew, I think there was something in their belly a little bit that they wanted to come back and maybe they felt their career wasn’t quite accomplished and they wanted to come back and take UCF to a regional.”

Rooney instilled the motto “Everything Matters,” during the Fall, echoing the idea that everything from what the players eat in the morning, to how they shag flyballs during batting practice matters.

The Knights start the season ranked No. 22 in Baseball America’s Preseason Poll but coach Rooney, along with the players all know that the ranking means nothing come selection day.

“It just shows that all the hard work is starting to pay off,” said senior pitcher Zach Rodgers. “It’s just a preseason ranking, which the end goal is we want to be ranked a little higher and make it to a regional. So our main goal is just focus on that and keep working hard.”

Rodgers earned the Friday night starter role going into this season after going 7-1 with five saves and a 1.36 ERA last year while pitching out of the bullpen and as a starter. His best game of the season came in The American Championship tournament opener when he threw a complete game, allowing one run on five hits against UConn.

Coach Rooney has set forth the same goal for 2015 that he has always had while at UCF and that is to earn an NCAA regional bid.

“The first and number one goal of this baseball program is to get to an NCAA regional, period,” said Rooney before the start of the season. “And the way I want to do it is by obtaining an at-large bid, that’s the number one goal, you get a bid to an NCAA regional two ways, by receiving an at-large bid or by winning your conference championship tournament at the end of the year.”

UCF’s road to an NCAA regional will start on Friday night against the Siena Saints when Zach Rodgers toes the rubber for the opening night of the 2015 season. The Knights know what their ultimate goal is for the end of the season and the have 56 regular season games to achieve that goal.

The Knights are 6-0 on opening day under Terry Rooney and lead the all-time series against Siena 42-4.

Admission to ‘Opening Knight,” on Friday will be free to everyone courtesy of CFE Federal Credit Union. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Jay Bergman Field on the UCF campus.