UCF Series Preview

I feel like I'm beginning to sound a bit like a broken record, but coming off another disappointing weekend and a disappointing loss to the Texas Longhorns in the midweek, the Houston Cougars will be looking to pick themselves up off the mat and play well in a road series against Central Florida this weekend.

The Knights got off to a slow start in conference play, but they have picked it up as of late and will come into this series having won back-to-back CUSA series, one on the road at Rice and the other at home against Marshall.

It's no secret that the key to UCF's success is their pitching staff. In particular, they lean heavily on junior Ben Lively. The Gulf Breeze, Florida native will come into this series with a 1.09 ERA, a 72/15 strikeout to walk ratio and a .202 batting average against.  

The strangest part of his stat line is that his record is 6-3. It's hard to imagine another starting pitcher having three or more losses this season with a lower ERA. If UCF and UH both continue their usual rotation patterns, Lively will be matched up with Austin Pruitt on Saturday night. That would make the second Saturday in a row that Pruitt is matched up with a pitcher that has arguably had a better season than he has. That's tough when you consider how good Pruitt has been.

Behind Lively, the Golden Knights feature three other starts that they can trust to get the job done.

Redshirt senior Chris Matulis, a one-time LSU Tiger, is 4-2 on the season with a 3.39 ERA. In 61 innings, he has struck out 49, but he has also issued 31 walks. He is going to walk some batters if you let him. In addition to his six starts, he has appeared out of the bullpen on eight occasions.

Junior JC transfer Danny Davis is 4-2 with a 3.58 ERA. Like Matulis, he is a versatile arm. He has seven starts and five relief appearances.

Brian Adkins is 2-6 with a 5.03 ERA. Opposing hitters have a .292 batting average off of the senior lefty. He is hittable, but he is going to battle. He has been a contributor in all four of his seasons in Orlando and in the last three, he has been a consistent weekend starter.

Out of the bullpen, UCF is led by a couple of workhorses.

The emergence of freshman Zac Favre has been huge. In 39.1 innings over 23 appearances, Favre has a 2.52 ERA, a .171 batting average against and a 47/16 strikeout to walk ratio.

Spencer Davis, a redshirt sophomore out of the great state of Texas, has a 3.81 ERA in 26 innings spread over 20 appearances. He leads the team with four saves.

The Knights employ a really small stable of pitchers. Other than Favre and Spencer Davis and a couple of other relievers with a handful of innings, the rest of the relief innings come from the pitchers out of Matulis, Danny Davis, Adkins and Eric Skoglund that didn't start on the weekend. 

Offensively, UCF is quite top-heavy.

Catcher Chris Taladay is the unquestioned star of the show. The senior is hitting .364 with two home runs and 35 RBI. He is third in the team with 11 doubles, he has a .435 on-base percentage and he has more walks (19) than he does strikeouts (16). To top it off, he is six-for-nine on stolen bases this season. I believe the old phrase "good speed for a catcher" applies here.

Outfielder Erik Hempe, another veteran, is hitting .331 with four home runs and 28 RBI. He is tied for the team lead in doubles with 12 and he is just a shade behind Taladay in OBP at .433.

From there, the numbers do drop off a bit, but they still have a couple of dangerous bats.

James Vasquez, a hulking first baseman from Palm City, Florida, has five homers and is tied with Erik Hempe for the team lead in doubles with 12.

Senior Jeramy Matos is hitting only .220 on the season, but he leads the team in homers with eight and in slugging percentage at .520.

Don't let the 22-19 overall record fool you about UCF. This team certainly has what it takes to win, and possibly sweep, the series against UH. To me, they are much better than their record would indicate.

They have an ace that is as good as absolutely anyone in the nation, they have a couple of physical bats in the lineup and maybe most importantly, they are a veteran bunch. You'll notice that most of the players I talked about specifically are juniors or seniors.

The Cougars badly need a series win to get some momentum and confidence going and I'm not sure UCF on the road is the series to do that. They certainly have the talent to get the job done, but if they play like they have for the last month or so, they're likely to come home with more questions than answers.

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