When Greg Lovelady took over the UCF Knights baseball team from Terry Rooney in 2017, he was inheriting a team coming off of a 25-34 season.
In his first season at the helm, the Knights won The American regular season title, going 40-22, including a trip to the Tallahassee regional where they were knocked out with losses to FSU and Auburn.
Since then, UCF has struggled to find the success that most fans were hoping for. Now some on Twitter are calling for Lovelady to be replaced. But is that the right decision?
Regular Season Success
Lovelady is now 157-98 (.616) as the head coach of the Knights. During that time, the Knights are 7-8 in conference tournament games, having reached the semifinals twice and the championship game once, just this past season. They are also 24-24 against top-25 teams, 6-5 against top-5 teams, and 4-1 against teams ranked #1.
But despite monumental wins in the regular season, never winning a conference title or making it back to the NCAA Tournament still looms over Lovelady and his program.
UCF was one or two wins away from another regional appearance in both 2018, where they went 35-21, and 2019, where they went 36-22. Both times they were on the bubble and got snubbed for an at-large bid.
In 2020, the Knights got off to a hot start, going 15-3 and getting ranked as high as #12 before the season was shut down due to COVID-19. So there was a lot of hype going into the 2021 season for UCF.
Up and Down
Early in the season, UCF took two out of three games at then-#1 ranked Ole Miss. They also went 3-3 against East Carolina, who went 44-17 and picked up the #13 seed in the Tournament before falling to Kumar Rocker and Vanderbilt in the Super Regionals.
The Knights finished the 2021 season with a 31-30 record, winning 8 of their last 11 games and making it to the conference tournament championship game where they lost a bitterly close 8-7 decision to USF.
Inexperience and injuries were UCF’s biggest enemy throughout the 2021 season. 26% of UCF’s at-bats and 31% of their innings pitched came at the hands of true freshman.
In addition to the inexperience, injuries also reared their ugly head. First, Matt Archer, who is a promising young infielder for the Knights, also went down early in the season with a knee injury suffered in a dogpile after a walk-off win. Then their ace Colton Gordon went down halfway through the season to undergo Tommy John Surgery.
With only two seniors leaving the team, Lovelady should be returning the majority of this year’s team in 2022, pending any transfers or draft picks. Minimal turnover means a tighter, more experienced squad who ended the season on a hot streak and have already built team chemistry. While UCF hasn’t yet become a baseball powerhouse under Lovelady, I think he’s done a solid job and he definitely deserves to showcase what his team can do in 2022.