It had to end at some point. For the UCF Baseball team, that point was Wednesday night in a 4-3 loss to the Miami Hurricanes. But the Knights will take a loss if it follows 13 consecutive wins every time. That streak, which lived from Feb. 23-March 13 and was the fifth-longest in program history, contained basically every type of victory imaginable.
There were a couple of blowouts versus Savannah State. There was Rylan Thomas' walk-off homer against Wagner, which came one night before the Knights erased an 8-0 Wagner lead with an eight-run eighth inning to beat the Seahawks, 10-8. Then came the home-and-home statement wins over the No. 1-ranked Florida Gators, 18 innings of shutout ball in a doubleheader versus Siena and capped by Tuesday's come-from-behind, extra-inning marathon with Bradley.
Starting pitcher Joe Sheridan said the team learned during these past few weeks that it can win without being perfect and that no deficit is too large to keep the Knights from staging a comeback. The rest of the college baseball world probably learned a lot about this team as well considering that the Knights now find themselves ranked in each of the six Division I baseball polls, highlighted by their No. 19 slot in Baseball America's poll.
Pitching staff among the best
Even if you've caught only a few UCF games this year, you're probably aware of how good the Knights are on the mound. Here's just a quick update of how good, a month into the season.
UCF ranks either first or second in a double-digit number of pitching categories in the American Athletic Conference. And nationally, they sit among the top 25 in fewest hits allowed per nine innings (6.93), fewest walks allowed per nine innings (2.95), ERA (2.56) and strikeouts per nine innings (10.9). The team's strikeout-to-walk rate (3.69) is the fourth-best in the country. Seven of the nine UCF pitchers who have thrown at least nine innings this season have a sub-3.00 ERA.
Osik, Thomas driving the O
Junior outfielder Tyler Osik is the reigning American Athletic Conference Player of the Week. He earned the honor after hitting .421 (8-for-19) with 11 RBIs. Four of those runs were knocked in during UCF's win over No. 1 Florida on March 6. Osik then had a six-RBI day against Siena. This week, he was the hero in UCF's 13th-inning, 6-5 triumph over Bradley, delivering the game-winning single to end a game that lasted nearly five hours.
"I was just like, 'I'm gonna do it right here because I want to win this game and I want to go home,'" Osik said.
Osik is now hitting .323 on the year and owns an .862 OPS.
However, that OPS pales in comparison to what Rylan Thomas, the preseason conference player of the year, has done thus far. He smacked his sixth homer of the season versus Miami. That ranks tied for 14th in Division I and is nearly half of the Knights' total of 13 HRs. Thomas' 24 RBIs are tied for 16th nationally. He's currently boasting a lofty 1.227 OPS, much needed on a team that has an overall OPS of just .784.
Things RT can do:— UCF Baseball (@UCF_Baseball) March 16, 2018
Flash the leather ✊
Add dancing to that list pic.twitter.com/OHFzAdDmBZ
Mentor vs. pupil
Without Jim Morris, UCF's Greg Lovelady admits that he would not be a baseball coach. He could have used his finance degree from the University of Miami after his playing days at The U. He considered being a high school math teacher. But Morris pushed him to be a coach and gave Lovelady his first shot when he brought him back to Miami as an assistant in 2002.
The two men have faced off as opposing managers a handful of times -- three times while Lovelady was the head coach at Wright State and then once last season in Miami -- and they met for the first and last time in Orlando on Wednesday. Morris, who has spent 37 seasons as a college baseball head coach, including the last 25 at Miami, will retire at the end of the 2018 season. He ranks seventh all-time in college baseball coaching wins.
So what did the two men talk about before Wednesday night's first pitch?
"I just reminded him who helped him win two national championships," Lovelady joked.
We tipped our caps to 3 last night on his final visit to Orlando ⚔️ pic.twitter.com/nObfl4q55z— UCF Baseball (@UCF_Baseball) March 15, 2018
John Euliano Park expansion wrapping up
The Knights are just one week away from the start of AAC play. And there should be another big story on March 23: The completion of the John Euliano Park expansion. Construction crews have been working on the stadium for the past several months, but it is expected that the new Home Plate Tower will be open to the public on the night of UCF's series opener versus East Carolina.
The expansion was initially expected to be finished by March 6, but that timetable was pushed back reportedly due to a shipping delay of materials.
The Knights open their first-ever series versus Chicago State tonight at John Euliano Park. This is the last stop for the Cougars on their season-opening 16-game road trip. They are just 4-9 on the year and have dropped eight games in a row.
The Knights have announced that pitchers Chris Williams and Thad Ward will get the ball on Friday and Saturday, respectively. That's to be expected. However, the team has not yet announced who will start Sunday, a spot that has been held by Jordan Spicer this year. This is only a guess, but Lovelady and his coaches may be considering JJ Montgomery for that series finale. Montgomery didn't pitch Tuesday versus Bradley due to back spasms, but the head coach said he made it through a bullpen session Monday with no concerns. Conversely, if Montgomery does pitch Sunday, that means he would likely be unavailable for UCF's upcoming, mid-week trip to Tallahassee for a pair of games against the No. 6 Florida State Seminoles.
First pitches for this weekend's three-game home set are scheduled for 6:30, 6:30 and 1 p.m.