Erik Barber (UCF)

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Etheridge: UCF, Maryland victorious in Mobile

MOBILE, Ala. – Terry Rooney has a college baseball oddity – a senior heavy roster. Eight of UCF’s top ten returning position players and three of its top four returning pitchers are seniors. With that type of experience, the Knights feel they are able to avoid the early season woes that wrecked their season goals last year.

Undefeated after Friday’s 9-5 victory over Arkansas, Rooney is feeling good about his Knights.

University of Central Florida logo“It was a good win today,” Rooney said. “We feel like we have a veteran team in a lot of areas even though we have a lot of newcomers who are doing a nice job. I think from top to bottom the depth of our team is very good. We have a lot of seniors on this team. It doesn’t happen often in college baseball. Some of them had a chance to play professional baseball but they wanted to come back and get us back to where we belong.”

That experience helped early on Friday as Arkansas (3-1) pushed starter Zach Rodgers to 45 first inning pitches but managed just one run.

“We had a guy (Joe Serrano) have an 18 pitch at bat and finish it with double,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “We forced (Rodgers) to throw over 40 pitches in an inning. But he is a senior and got out of it. You have to give him credit.”

Rodgers allowed four hits and a run in his four innings. He walked two and struck out three. After his 45 pitch first, he threw just 40 in the next three frames.

“He has to go deeper in the game and be more efficient in his pitches,” added Rooney.

Harrison Hukari (1-0) got the relief win and Spencer Davis earned his second save.

Dominic Taccolini (1-1) got the start for Arkansas and went four innings in the losing effort. He surrendered four hits, three runs, walked three, and collected six strikeouts in his 88 pitch effort. James Teague, Kyle Pate, and Cannon Chadwick saw action in relief and all allowed runs.

“It really started on the mound,” Van Horn said. “We were trying to experiment and figure things out. We had guys make too many mistakes ahead in the count. We scored in five innings and they scored in three. But they scored three runs an inning and four (in the other).”

On a windy afternoon, there were three homers hit. Erik Barber hit one for UCF, while Joe Serrano and Andrew Benintendi each got in on the action for the Razorbacks.

For Rooney’s club, he is looking to build on games like this one so they do not repeat the struggles from last season, where they started with an ugly 7-11 record.

“This is a tough tournament,” Rooney explained. “All four teams were undefeated. This is a regional type atmosphere. Last year we had 24 new players in our program and it took a little while to get going. The last two-thirds of the year I thought we did a heck of a job and fell a game short of making a regional. A lot of these guys came back with something to prove.”

On a blustery Friday afternoon in Mobile, they proved they can play with one of the top programs in baseball.


Shawaryn In Control

As inefficient as the starting pitching was in the opening game of the tournament, Maryland righthander Mike Shawaryn needed just 72 pitches to log his seven innings in the nightcap. The righthander allowed just three hits, did not walk a batter, and struck out six in Maryland’s 8-0 victory at South Alabama.

Mike Shawaryn (Photo by Tim Casey)Mike Shawaryn was on point as usual against South Alabama. (Photo by Tim Casey)

The 6-foot-3, 211-pound sophomore from Carneys Point, N.J. was a freshman All-American in 2014. He pitched Friday like a guy who will win a whole lot of games this season.

“That is what you expect from that guy,” Maryland coach John Szefc said. “You don’t expect a shutout but you do expect a quality start because 95 percent of the time that is what he gives you. He prepares well. He takes care of the scouting reports and he throws strikes.”

“I thought Shawaryn was very good,” South Alabama coach Mark Calvi said. “He was as good as advertised. He locates his fastball at 90-92 with some late sink. There’s a reason why he did as well as he did in the ACC. We knew he was going to be tough to deal with. He blanked South Carolina in a regional last year. He has good stuff, and those are the kind of kids you need to beat.”

The Terrapins scored four runs in the first and stretched the lead throughout the game. LaMonte Wade paced the Maryland lineup going 4-for-5 with a double and two runs batted in. Kevin Martir added three hits and an RBI.

“It helps when you get out to a four run lead. That makes things a little easier. This is a hard place to play – especially going up against them on Friday. I didn’t know what to expect.”

Szefc was an assistant at Louisiana-Lafayette before his stint at Maryland. His club won the Columbia Regional last season in just his second year, and they’re highly acclaimed with a No. 13 ranking. They also enter their first season as a member of the Big 10.

“There is a lot going on so there are a lot of distractions,” Szefc said. “We just try to keep these guys grounded and go day by day. It doesn’t sound very excited. I am glad to get the season going to get past some of that because when young guys start reading that stuff they start believing it. So you have to worry about who we are playing next.”

Maryland (4-0) is a favorite in the Big 10 this season – a league that appears to be making a move in the sport.

“I really do think it is a conference on the way up,” said Szefc. “If you look below the covers and you evaluate it by the coaching staff, by facility, by schedule, how they recruit, and by the resources each program has, I think the positives far outweigh the negatives.”

For all of the positives on one side of the diamond, South Alabama (4-1) had one of those rough evenings that makes a team glad they play tomorrow.

The Jaguars came in to game with four combined errors in their first four games. They had five in the shutout loss Friday.

Cole Billingsley led the Jaguar lineup with two of their five hits.

“(Shawaryn) pitched really well, and on a cold night they pitched, hit and played better defense than us tonight,” Calvi said.

“At the end of the year if we want to play for championships in the postseason, these are the types of teams we’ll face and the type of teams we will have to beat to advance,” he continued. “Hopefully I will see a response tomorrow. We play as good a team, or better, in Arkansas Saturday. The bottom line is we need a better start to the game.”

The teams continue the tournament Saturday at 2 P.M. when Maryland faces UCF. Arkansas and South Alabama meet in the second game at 6:30 P.M.

“It doesn’t get any easier,” said Szefc. “All four of these teams have been in the NCAA tournament the past two years as either a No. 2 or No. 3 seed. All you need to say it is like an NCAA Regional.”

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