After ending the 2017 season with a 40-22 record and an AAC regular season title, the UCF Baseball team is ready to hit the field for another big year.
The Knights will start their season Feb. 16 when they host a three-game tournament with visiting teams such as Virginia, Rice and Samford.
The Knights, who were ranked by Baseball America as No. 22 in a preseason poll, will be led by second-year head coach Greg Lovelady. With less than three weeks of preparation time left before the season starts, Lovelady says that the team’s lineup has not been completely decided.
Joe Sheridan, a native from Oviedo, says the effort everyone has put in over winter break is obvious.
“Every pitcher is going to have to earn every inning they throw this year and that’s what makes it fun,” Sheridan said.
Sheridan, now a sophomore, started 12 out of the 17 games he pitched in last year. The Collegiate Baseball Newspaper and the Louisville Slugger named Sheridan a Freshman All-American.
Just rewarded an unanimous decision for the AAC Preseason Player of the Year, sophomore first baseman Rylan Thomas also expects this season to be a good one.
“We got a lot of talent this year so it’ll be interesting to see how it all translates when we actually start playing games against the other opponents.”
Thomas says this award hasn’t added any new pressure to how he’ll play the game going forward.
“It’s just another day out here,” he said. “[I’m] Just going to play the game hard, do everything that I can, help the guys win, [and] get the team another win.”
A few new key players this year include JJ Montgomery, Jordan Spicer and Brody Wofford.
Wofford says this up and coming program is the reason he decided to attend UCF.
“Definitely something to build on, they had a winning season, they won the conference, they won 40-plus games last year, [and] it’s not easy to make it to a regional. I think they’re hungry and we’re all ready just to get out here.”
As for Spicer, he says he’s got the same philosophy as the coaches: getting better and wanting to win. As far as his thoughts on the competition for a role as a starting pitcher, Spicer says it’s going to pay off in the end.
“I think it’s going to be very intense, but I think it’s going to be very helpful for the team. Kind of push us all to be better at the end of the day.”
Bryce Tucker, the only relief pitcher selected from the American Athletic Conference, spent last summer working with the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team. As a junior, Tucker is excited to see what this year brings for the team.
“It’s extremely exciting to see the arms we got going this year. We brought in a lot of new competitive relievers, starters, all across the board. I mean our pitching staff is really excited.”
After last year’s season-ending heart breaker in the NCAA Regional Tournament, Tucker says he’s ready to get back there.
“Seeing what we could’ve accomplished and what we did accomplish, in our opinions, we came up short. Now we got all this new talent coming in, so for the guys returning, it’s extremely exciting. It allowed us to understand a work ethic and build with that, and bring in new guys and teach them how it’s done.”
Lovelady, one year after being named the American Coach of the Year, is ready for the action to begin as well.
“JJ and Spice obviously mixed with Willie and Joe coming back. Those four guys that are rookies are some of the most talented pitchers I’ve ever had and even been around.”
“Obviously Rice and Virginia are traditionally some of the better programs in the entire country, and obviously Samford has been one of the best mid-majors. So I mean you got three other opponents that probably will all be in the regionals which is exactly what I want. This is one of the best leagues in the country, there’s no doubt.”