Biggest series in UCF history, winner takes Conference-USA

Biggest+series+in+UCF+history%2C+winner+takes+Conference-USA

Bryan Levine / Valencia Voice

Darnell Sweeney and Chris Taladay celebrate with Ronnie Richardson after scoring on a D.J. Hicks home run.

By Mary Stevens & Bryan Levine

This weekend’s series against Rice is arguably the biggest series in UCF baseball history, and possibly even the most significant baseball ever to be played in Orlando.

Expectations were high for the UCF baseball program going into the 2012 season. The win Sunday against Marshall made them the first team in school history to notch a 40-win season. With just three conference games remaining, their expectations are quickly becoming reality.

“Anytime you have the opportunity to play for a ring it is an exciting time,” said UCF head coach Terry Rooney. “It is the first time its happened in this baseball program since being in Conference USA.”

UCF entered Conference USA in 2006.

With identical 15-6 conference records, both No. 13 UCF and No. 4 Rice are just two wins away from being crowned regular-season champions. It would be the first for UCF since joining the Conference-USA, but Rice is looking to win their sixth championship in seven years. The Owls also reached the semifinals of the College World Series in 2008.

If UCF wins or sweeps the series against Rice, they will be the top seed in Conference USA and will have a better chance of hosting a regional. If UCF loses, that opportunity becomes much less likely.

UCF’s first baseman D.J. Hicks and Rice’s second baseman Christian Stringer will play a huge role in the outcome of this weekend since the two consistently step up to the plate when needed to.

Hicks has led the nation in RBI on and off throughout the season. The first baseman weighs in 250 lbs, filling out his 6’5’’ frame. He currently has 65 RBI and has hit 11 homers in the 2012 season.

Stringer’s, standing at 5’10’’ and weighing in at 185 lbs, leads his team with a .357 batting average and 70 hits. His season RBl totals to 32.

UCF’s probable starting pitcher for Thursday’s game will be RHP Ben Lively (8-1, 2.97 ERA). Lively started the season in the weekend rotation but he was sent to the bullpen after having a couple of rocky starts. He spent his time in the bullpen working on his command and eventually worked his way back to the weekend rotation.

“We played okay at Marshall but we didn’t pitch very well,” Rooney said. “Our starting pitchers did not do a good job and we need to get better. For us to put ourselves in position moving forward into the postseason, we need to have some consistency in our rotation and they need to pitch better.”

Lively’s likely opponent is expected to be Matthew Reckling. Reckling (8-1, 2.45 ERA) has thrown two complete games this season.

The first pitch for this historic series is set for Thursday at 6:30 p.m. Game 2 is set to start at 6:30 p.m. Friday night and the series will wrap up Saturday at 1 p.m.