The UCF Knights baseball team enters its fourth year under Greg Lovelady sporting a nearly entirely new look - not in terms of uniforms, but rather of those wearing them. Only four position players and a handful of pitchers return from last year’s squad that valiantly tfought off a stunning series of catastrophic pitching injuries to get to The American’s tournament semifinal Saturday, only to come up short against a Cincinnati squad that eventually won it.
A host of graduations and transfers in the offseason has led to a nearly brand-new roster for head coach Greg Lovelady, who said to us in our season preview podcast that this teams’ biggest strength this year will be its depth - something that was missing all of last year.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Knights for 2020:
36-22, 11-13 in The American (6th place). The Knights suffered a slew of key injuries to their pitching staff last season and still managed to crank out 35 wins for the third straight year under Greg Lovelady. Despite a 4-8 start to conference play, UCF rebounded to win seven of its last eight, including a wild 11-10 11-inning thriller on the last night of the season against Houston to secure their spot in the conference tournament in a year that saw just three wins separate the #2 and #7 seeds in Clearwater:
In his last AB at John Euliano Park, B capped it with a walk-off winner pic.twitter.com/4jxfvSDSp5— UCF Baseball (@UCF_Baseball) May 19, 2019
UCF lost in their first game in Clearwater to Tulane but rebounded with a thrilling comeback over Memphis:
That and a return of the favor over Tulane put UCF in Semifinal Saturday, but they could not get past the Bearcats, who ended UCF’s season before dumping 22 runs on UConn the next day to take the title.
A final RPI of 47, three spots behind the last at-large team in (Duke), was just barely not enough to get the Knights into the NCAAs.
Picked 5th in The American by the coaches
UCF is expected to be near where they ended last year. ECU is the favorite, with Houston nipping at their heels:
.@ECUBaseball has been picked by our coaches as the 2020 #AmericanBASE favorite! pic.twitter.com/cnCbQRaLn5— American Baseball (@American_BSB) December 30, 2019
Who’s in Charge
It’s already Year #4 for Greg Lovelady, and he finally has a roster complete with guys he recruited. He enters the season with a 111-65 record at UCF (235-121 overall).
Listen to Coach Lovelady preview the team on our Baseball Preview Podcast:
Who to Watch
OF Dalton Wingo
WIngo is the only player back from last season’s team who played in all 58 games. The junior from Plant City rebounded from a difficult freshman campaign (.179 in 34 games) to finsh 5th on the team in hitting (.294) and 2nd in RBI (44). He was the only Knight named to The American’s preseason all-conference team
SP Trevor Holloway
Holloway’s promising 2019 (2-0, 2.03 ERA, 29 K/15 BB in 26.2 IP, 6 starts) was cut short due to an injury against ECU in the opening conference series. He obtained a medical redshirt and is expected to be a key cog in the Knights’ rotation once again.
Who We’ll Miss
2B Matthew Mika
Mika finished his UCF career as the team’s leader in hits and steals. He was drafted by the Bewers and hit .258 in the Arizona Fall League.
SP Jordan Spicer
Spicer’s up-and-down career at UCF ended with an emotional performance in Clearwater, as he threw a complete-game gem to push the Knights into the semis in his final outing as a Knight:
I’ll never forget this hug pic.twitter.com/Ssk01HooDx— Greg Lovelady (@CoachLovelady23) May 25, 2019
He was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the 24th round and finished last year with their A-ball team in Boise.
Who’s on the Roster
A lot of new guys. UCF returns just four players who saw action last year, only one of whom - Dalton Wingo - played in all 58 games last year as a regular.
UCF Baseball 2020 Projected Lineup
|C||40||Ben McCabe||So.||.274, 2 HR, 17 RBI .368 OBP in 39 games|
|1B||17||Nick Romano||Jr.||.348, 10 HR, 57 RBI at St. Johns River State College|
|2B||6||Tom Josten||So.||.308, 11 HR, 33 RBI at Marshalltown CC|
|3B||2||Matt Archer||Fr.||First-team All-American & Broward Co. Player of the Year as HS Senior|
|SS||21||Noah Orlando||Jr.||Edgewater HS product hit .318 at Palm Beach State College|
|LF||34||Jordan Rathbone||Sr.||4/21, 1 RBI, .320 OBP in 11 games (3 starts)|
|CF||27||Gephry Pena||So.||1/11, 6 R, mostly as pinch runner in 30 games|
|RF||8||Dalton Wingo||Jr.||.294, 7 HR, 44 RBI, .373 OBP, only returner to start all 58 games|
|DH||44||Josh Crouch||Jr.||.290, 12 HR, 65 RBI in two seasons at State College of Florida|
|C||7||Jakob Runnels||Fr.||Hit .510 as senior at Auburndale HS|
|1B||39||Connor Allen||So.||Redshirted after transferring from Miami|
|SS||26||Andrew Brait||Fr.||.508 OBP as senior at Viera HS|
|INF||13||JJ Gonzalez||Fr.||.397 hitter as senior at Plant City HS|
|UTIL||29||Pablo Ruiz||Fr.||Palm Beach Co. and Sun-Sentinel Player of the Year (.563, .670 OBP) at Forest Hill HS|
|UTIL||32||Ben Rushing||Fr.||.312 hitter as senior at Cypress Bay HS|
|UTIL||5||Trent Taylor||Jr.||.304 hitter in two years at Daytona State|
The most experience returns on the pitching staff, but even that isn’t much, although several players return from injuries they suffered last season:
UCF Baseball 2020 Projected Pitching Staff
|SP||Friday||10||Colton Gordon||Jr.||L||7-4, 2.44 ERA, 86 K in 88.2 IP at Hillsborough CC|
|SP||Saturday||15||Trevor Holloway||Sr.||R||2-0, 2.03 ERA, 29 K in 26.2 IP, redshirted after season-ending injury|
|SP||Sunday||16||Hunter Patteson||Fr.||L||6-1, 0.91 ERA, 81 K in 51 IP as HS senior|
|SP||Midweek||18||Zack Hunsicker||So.||R||3-1, 4.59 ERA, 33.1 IP in 21 app (1 start)|
|SP||Midweek||19||Joe Sheridan||Sr.||L||DNP due to torn labrum (3-3, 3.36 ERA, 49 K in 56.1 IP in '18)|
|SP||Midweek||12||Jack Sinclair||Jr.||R||4-3, 5.20 ERA, 36.1 IP in 25 app, all as reliever|
|RP||Closer||30||Jeffrey Hakenson||Jr.||R||1-0, 6 SV, 3.38 ERA, 52 K in 26.2 IP|
|RP||Middle||1||David Litchfield||Jr.||R||2 ER, 5 K, 4 BB in 3.1 IP in injury-shortened year|
|RP||Middle||4||Chad Luensmann||Sr.||R||1-2, 8.83 ERA, 17 K, 17 BB|
|RP||Middle||11||Zack Helsel||Sr.||R||3.2 IP, 1 ER, 6 K before Tommy John surgery, aiming for April return|
|RP||Middle||24||Major Posey||Fr.||R||Baseball, basketball star at North Florida Christian HS|
|RP||Middle||25||Nolan Lepkoske||Fr.||R||Missed season after undergoing Tommy John surgery|
|RP||Middle||31||Elijah McCormack||Fr.||R||70 K in 45 IP as HS senior|
|RP||Middle||35||Billy McKay||Jr.||R||3.45 ERA, 75.2 ERA at Polk State College|
|RP||Middle||3||Nick Gottilla||Fr.||L||9-1, 1.31 ERA, 95 K as HS senior|
|RP||Middle||20||Jaylyn Whitehead||Sr.||L||5-2, 4.83 ERA, 50.1 IP in 21 app (10 starts)|
|RP||Middle||28||Ryan Saltonstall||Jr.||L||1 scoreless appearance prior to season-ending injury|
|RP||Middle||33||Keegan Pulford-Thorpe||Fr.||L||HS senior drafted by Padres in 33rd round of MLB Draft|
Who We’re Playing
UCF has key non-conference match-ups with Florida State, Miami, and on the road at Auburn, and in conference play, the Knights face the top three schools in last year’s AAC standings all at home.
The Last Time UCF:
- Made the NCAA Tournament: 2017
- Won a conference tournament: 2002 (Atlantic Sun)
- Made a regional final: 2004