The wait and anticipation is finally over, as UCF and Rice are just a few hours away from the first pitch of their historic winner-takes-all series at Jay Bergman Field.
In what most are considering to be the biggest game in UCF athletics history, both the Knights and Owls sit atop the C-USA standings with 15 conference wins each.
“It’s exciting. I’m excited for the kids,” head coach Terry Rooney said. “When you look at the beginning of the year, Rice and UCF were picked one-two, and you can’t ask for anything more.”
Rice has won all but one C-USA regular season championships since joining the conference in 2006, and with two wins this weekend, UCF can do what only the 2009 East Carolina team has done – win the regular season.
Though the Owls were favored to win the conference entering the season, Rice head Coach Wayne Graham expected UCF to be fighting for the championship at the end of the season.
“I thought UCF would be the team to beat in the conference,” said Graham. “I thought clearly they had the best experienced talent along with ourselves and East Carolina.”
The game tonight is scheduled for a 6:30 first pitch, though weather may play a factor as it did in the cancellation of the series finale against Stetson on Tuesday .
RHP Matthew Reckling will toss the first pitches for Rice. The Houston native is 8-1 on the season with a 2.40 era. He ranks second in the conference with 90 strikeouts, and his eight wins is tied for the conference lead with UCF pitcher Ben Lively.
“When you look at them on paper they’re well balanced, but they’ve always had great pitching,” said Rooney. “When you look at where they are this year, that certainly holds true. They have a great collection of arms.”
Starting Thursday night for UCF is LHP Chris Matulis. The southpaw has been bumped in and out of the weekend rotation all season, but has improved greatly his last few starts, earning the first spot in this weekend’s rotation. Matulis is 6-0 on the season with a 2.73 era.
Graham seemingly praised Matulis Wednesday night, as he told the Valencia Voice that his team will need to learn how to “cope with the three good pitches (Matulis) can throw for strikes,” but later told the Houston Chronicle there is a strong possibility UCF won’t be able to handle his hitters because “they don’t have anybody that can really shut us down. ”
These comments have only fueled the animosity and anticipation this series already brought with it.