Newcomers Highlight 2016 UCF Baseball Team

Courtesy UCF Athletics

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Ella Montesdeoca / Valencia Voice

The Knights went 11-20 over their final 21 games last year, after starting the season 20-5.

ORLANDO — Head coach Terry Rooney and the UCF Knights baseball team know they have a lot they can improve on from a year ago, and they will have to do it with 15 newcomers to the roster in 2016.

The Knights went 11-20 over their final 21 games after starting the season 20-5, getting to the highest ranking in program history and getting big wins over ranked opponents such as Ole Miss and Florida. The final stretch of the season, combined with back-to-back walk-off losses in the conference tournament prevented UCF from earning an at-large bid, which is always the goal for the program.

“One area that we need to get better at from last year is the end of the games,” said Rooney during Media Day on Wednesday. “I felt like our bullpen got tired last year, but I felt like we had a couple of guys that did a terrific job. This year we have to have more guys we can rely upon so their fresher late in the game.”

Most of UCF’s struggles came on the road, where the Knights went 8-16 throughout the course of the season. Away games will be key in 2016 as the Knights schedule features trips to Florida, Florida State as well as long-time Conference USA rival Rice.

Despite all the turnover on the roster, UCF still brings back a few good bats in Matt Diorio and Logan Heiser, with some quality arms in opening night starter Cre Finfrock and Robby Howell. Harrison Hukari is expected to anchor the bullpen.

“Cre had a great year for us,” said Rooney about his opening day starter. “Quite honestly I don’t know if he can do any better than what Fin (Finfrock) did for us as a freshman last year. The biggest thing for me with Cre is the maturity that he just kept getting better and better and better the entire year, he’s always had the stuff, he’s always had the arm but each outing nothing phased him and he just learned to split pitches.”

Other than behind the plate, the Knights defense will look vastly different from a year ago. Gone are notable starters Erik Barber, JoJo Woods, Dylan Moore and James Vasquez. In come junior college transfers Ryan Crile, who will see time a second base, shortstop Brennan Bozeman, freshman Matthew Mika, who will see some time a third base and outfield, while another JUCO transfer in Austin Griffin will round out UCF’s probable starting defense.

The Knights will open up the season against Siena. UCF is 45-4 all-time against Siena and haven’t lost a season opener to the Saints since the traditional season opening series started in 2011.

Opening Night is set for Friday, February 20 with Cre Finfrock taking the mound for UCF against Siena senior right-hander Bryan Goossens. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. from Jay Bergman Field.