I and Rivals’ Brandon Helwig spent about 20 minutes with UCF baseball players and coach Greg Lovelady on Tuesday. At first, it seemed like nothing juicy would come out of our time as we asked questions to preview Wednesday’s game versus the fifth-ranked Florida Gators.
Junior lefty Jaylyn Whitehead will get the start for the Knights.
Catcher Anthony George will probably make his season debut in a limited capacity after sitting out the first seven games due to a hamstring injury.
Standard fare stuff.
And then I had a sudden flashback to all of those December debates about Florida and UCF possibly meeting on the football field:
Credit to Brandon, who asked Lovelady about the status of future meetings between the two programs. Wednesday’s game is the last one on any current schedule.
And thank goodness for Greg Lovelady; the man swims in coachspeak a fair amount, but there are plenty of times when he can sort of become unfiltered. Combine that with his tendency to dole out long, detailed answers, and you can end up with what we scribes consider to be gold.
Here is was what Lovelady said when Helwig asked him about the future of the series with the Gators.
“It seems as though they’re not too interested in playing here very much.”
Actually, I’m not sure if that’s Greg Lovelady or Danny White.
Of course, Lovelady had much more to say on the topic.
“In my mind, that puts the series in limbo. Being so close, I’m not really interested in playing never at our place. I’m interested in anything that they want to propose, but I’m definitely not interested in never playing here again or playing here once every five or 10 years. I’m not into that.”
To be clear, I’m not privy to the terms that have been discussed between Florida and UCF. Lovelady said there “hasn’t been too much discussion” about the series beyond 2019, and he will probably bring it up when he chats with Gators coach Kevin O’Sullivan prior to the game.
The two teams have met at least once each season since 2009 and have held home-and-homes in each of the past four years. In 2019, they will meet just once — tonight in Gainesville. UF leads the all-time series 27-20, but the Knights have won the past three meetings, including a home-and-home sweep last year. Lovelady would be cool with such an even commitment.
“I’d love to play them twice every year. In my mind, I’d love to play a home-and-home with them every year. It’s close. It’s easy to play. It helps both our RPIs. It’s a good challenge. Obviously, they draw well, so from that standpoint, it makes sense for us.”
Lovelady will always strive to construct a challenging schedule, one that gives his team NCAA regional-like experiences. Florida isn’t his only avenue to that goal. The Knights have one road game each against Florida State and Miami this year. The Seminoles are slated to visit John Euliano Park twice in 2020; the Hurricanes will come north for one game as well. The Knights will travel to Auburn for three games next year after hosting the Tigers last weekend. In 2020 and 2021, UCF will have three-game series versus Mississippi, which has qualified for the NCAA Tournament 15 times this century.
Not to mention games against other high-quality in-state opponents such as Stetson and Jacksonville, each of whom made the tourney in 2018. And all of this takes place while UCF competes in the American, a true Power 5 baseball conference.
So, UCF doesn’t necessarily need Florida in order to build a tough schedule. But with two strong baseball programs separated by about 100 miles, a consistent and complementary series makes too much sense. It seems like Lovelady has no problem doing what his squad will do today: travel up I-75 to play in Alfred McKethan Stadium.
But he wants to see some reciprocation from the Gators. Otherwise, who knows when these schools will meet again on the baseball diamond?
“I think the success we’ve had and the things that we’ve done and whatnot, I think we deserve to have them play here. I think it’s good for both of us to be able to do that. I’m not married to a home-and-home with them, but I’m definitely not married to never playing here. I’m not interested. I think our program has done enough to deserve the respect that we deserve. If we’re not going to get that, it’s not going to be a one-way street.”