UCF freshman pitcher Joe Sheridan knew April 30 would not be an easy day.
He was scheduled to take the mound against the Memphis Tigers with the hopes of notching the Knights' third straight series victory. But it wasn't the game that occupied his mind most when he awoke Sunday. It was Joe Skinner, Sheridan's friend and a UCF Baseball commit who had passed away due to a rare form of leukemia exactly one year prior. Here is what Sheridan tweeted out just a couple of hours before first pitch:
It's gonna be an honor to pitch with your name on the back of my jersey today❤️ #SkinnerStrong #4Joe— Joe Sheridan (@j_sheridan2) April 30, 2017
While admittedly trying to manage his emotions, Sheridan limited the Tigers to just three hits and one run while striking out a season-high nine batters in 6.1 innings. UCF went on to triumph, 2-1.
"I woke up this morning and I was crying in the shower," Sheridan said. "I told myself I wouldn't cry during my first-inning warmup, and I barely made it through that.
"I just wanted to come out and do something special today." As Sheridan finished that sentence, sophomore infielder Matthew Mika interjected from behind the postgame interview area, "You did. you did."
Head coach Greg Lovelady was also proud of his 19-year-old hurler, although it was initially difficult for him to express his satisfaction given the day's somber backdrop.
"Joe Sheridan gave us just an unbelievable start," he said. "I'm sure it wasn't easy for him today, this being the one-year anniversary of Joe ...."
Then Lovelady paused and glanced to his left for a second, buying just enough time to hold back tears. He initially thought he wouldn't be able to get his words out about Skinner and Sheridan -- "That's it, I tried," he remarked with a soft laugh -- but Lovelady continued after a moment. His voice was still wavering slightly.
"For [Sheridan] to go out there for his buddy and do the things he did today, he is just an ultimate competitor. He keeps getting better and better."
Sheridan has pitched so well in the past few weeks, he might have earned a promotion of sorts. The Oviedo native has compiled a 2.52 ERA over his last six starts, which includes a forgettable six-run outing versus South Florida on April 9. Take that out of the equation and Sheridan has allowed just four earned runs in his last 31.1 innings. While Lovelady wouldn't explicitly say the freshman is his best starter right now, he added that he "wouldn't be shocked" if Sheridan moves up from Sunday to pitch Saturday at Tulane. The Knights' usual Saturday starter, Juan Pimentel, has permitted 16 hits and 13 runs in his last 6.1 frames.
"I've said it all year: From the moment [Sheridan] stepped on campus, I've never felt like he felt this experience was too big," Lovelady said.
Sheridan definitely displayed his mettle in a difficult spot Sunday. And he doesn't think he did it alone.
"It just felt like there was someone else with me today," Sheridan said. "I don't think it's any secret who it was."
Don't let anyone tell you differently: There is indeed crying in baseball. There were plenty of understandably moist eyes this weekend at the UCF Baseball Complex.