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UCF Baseball scores slump-busting victory ahead of AAC play

Sheridan, Mika step up for Knights

UCF starting pitcher Joe Sheridan will look to pick up where he left off in 2017. (Photo: UCF Athletics)
UCF starting pitcher Joe Sheridan will look to pick up where he left off in 2017. (Photo: UCF Athletics)

It had hit the fan for the UCF Baseball team.

What is it, exactly? Well, since it can't be said here, it kind of goes without saying. But that's the idiom head coach Greg Lovelady used Sunday to describe the Knights' recent 1-3 stretch.

"We talk a lot about it in the fall, that at some point during the season, you're going to get punched in the mouth," Lovelady said. "I told the guys [Saturday], 'I told you it was going to hit the fan. This is it. Welcome to that time.'"

The offense batted a paltry .200 and the defense committed 10 errors during that span. Six of those errors occurred in the first two games of UCF's home weekend series versus Dartmouth, resulting in six unearned runs that were directly responsible for both defeats. The Knights badly needed to respond in Sunday's finale. They definitely accomplished that by turning the tables on the Big Green and capitalizing on their miscues. UCF turned eight walks, two errors and two passed balls into 15 runs for an emphatic shutout win.

"Guys did a great job of answering today, answering the bell," Lovelady said.

The triumph does more than bring some positivity into what had been a frustrated clubhouse; it puts the Knights back on the track in time for the beginning of American Athletic Conference play. Other than hosting Jacksonville University this Tuesday, UCF will spend the week practicing and preparing for the Houston Cougars, a squad that has already beaten top-shelf competition such as Cal State Fullerton and Baylor this season. That series opens Friday night at the UCF Baseball Complex.

"Being a freshman, I've never really played any of these teams before," starting pitcher Joe Sheridan said. "I've heard a lot of good things about them, so it's going to be exciting to finally see what these teams have and go toe-to-toe with them."

Sheridan does already know something about going up against -- and besting -- strong competition. He announced his presence on March 1, holding the second-ranked Florida Gators to one run over five innings in a victory. He was the man on the mound Sunday and turned in what Lovelady called a "dominating" performance. It was confirmation of why the Oviedo native has been promoted into the team's weekend rotation.

"He's just done a phenomenal job," Lovelady said of Sheridan. "... For a freshman to come out and do that, pitch the way he has, it just shows how competitive he is and how good his stuff is."

While Sheridan has been one of a handful of bright spots on the Knights' staff, infielder Matthew Mika has almost been carrying the offense during these largely lean times. The sophomore is riding an 11-game hitting streak and, after slotting seventh or eighth in the lineup at the beginning of the year, he was the Knights' No. 3 hitter during Sunday's blowout, picking up two more hits and two more RBIs in the process.

The energetic Mika doesn't pay much attention to the lineup card and said he is just looking to "go out there and have fun." However, his impact has not been lost on Lovelady, who admits that his team has needed someone to step up over the past week and is glad No. 14 has answered the call.

But to have success in conference play, the Knights know they can't depend on just one or two arms or a couple of bats to achieve their aim. They will need everyone clicking. And this isn't the first time they have run into tough times. Despite these setbacks, Lovelady thinks his players are pretty much on the right where they need to be entering the AAC portion of their schedule. Of course, getting the bad taste of this week out of their mouths Sunday certainly helped.

"When we're rolling, we have a chance to be really, really good," Lovelady said. "We've got to understand that there's going to be times when guys are scuffling. ... You've just got to grind through it and physically be prepared for it. Hopefully, that was the last four or five games and we've kind of pushed through it."