Preview: No. 1 Ole Miss hosts UCF in series at Swayze; a look at the Knights
OXFORD, Miss. — This weekend, Swayze Field will see two teams that have gone in different directions early in the season.
While Ole Miss opened the season ranked sixth, the Rebels quickly shot to the top spot in the rankings. Central Florida started ranked 24th and suddenly find itself 1-3 on the year.
The good news for the Knights is they are scoring a ton of runs. The bad news for UCF is it is giving up a ton and a half of runs. UCF has scored 15 runs in two of its four games this year, but somehow are 1-1 in those games. It beat Florida Atlantic 15-6 but lost to the Owls 20-15.
In a three-game set with FAU, the Knights dropped two and in their last game were shut out by Stetson, 7-0. But the top-ranked Rebels should not overlook UCF because the Knights were ranked in the preseason for a reason.
THE STUD KNIGHTS
UCF is led by the preseason American Conference freshman-of-the-year, Alex Freeland. The Cape Coral, Fla., native is leading the team with a .467 average with one home run. Outfielder Gephry Pena is hitting .429 with a home run and he has some wheels. When the 2020 season was halted, he was second in the nation with 13 stolen bases. Sophomore catcher Ben McCabe has a pair of home runs and has driven in nine runs.
On the hill, David Litchfield has the lone win of the year and has struck out five. Only two pitchers have thrown 4 2/3 innings with Ben Vespi not being scored on in that time. Zack Bennett has also made it that far in a game.
As a team, UCF has struck out 42 batters, but opponents are hitting .306 and the staff has an ERA of 9.26. The Knights have also thrown five wild pitches and hit eight batters.
If the opening series rotation is repeated, Ole Miss should see preseason all-conference pick Colton BURGordon, Hunter Patterson, and Jones. Only Jones is a righty.
THE HEAD KNIGHT
Greg Lovelady took over at UCF for the 2017 season after spending three years at Wright State. His overall record as a head coach is 253-127 and last year was off to a great start at 15-3 including a three-game sweep at Auburn.
As a player, he was the captain of Miami’s 2001 national champions, just one of the two titles the Hurricanes won while Lovelady played there.
WHY LOOK ANYWHERE ELSE?
Located in Orlando, the amount of high school baseball talent surrounding UCF in the Sunshine State, the number of recruits is bountiful. On the Knights’ roster are 23 Floridians.
BUT THEY DID LOOK ELSEWHERE
Not only did UCF look outside state for players, but the Knights also left the country. Three players are from overseas: John Montes is from Toaalta, Puerto Rico; Keegan Pulford-Thorpe hails from Newmarket, Ontario and Pena is a Santiago, Dominican Republic native.
WHERE ELSE WAS HE GOING TO GO TO SCHOOL?
Sure, he is from the city, and he started his career at Palm Beach State College, but where else was Noah Orlando supposed to play college ball.
ON THE WRONG END OF A TRIVIA QUESTION
UCF will be the answer of a trivia question no team wants to be the subject. In its 20-15 loss to FAU earlier this season, the Owls’ freshman Caleb Pendleton not only hit two grand slams, but he also hit them in his first two career at-bats.
SOMETHING COOL ABOUT UCF
One of the largest colleges in the country with an enrollment of about 72,000 students, it makes sense that UCF would have some pretty cool alumni. UCF boasts the 1980s pop star Terrence Trent D’Arby, Curb Your Enthusiasm actress Cheryl Hines and comedian and host of Tosh.O, Daniel Tosh.
SOMETHING COOL ABOUT ORLANDO
Orlando is home to the Magic Kingdom, and speaking of magic, the name of the city is kind of an illusion. While looking for a name, a man named James Speer lobbied for the name Orlando. He said it was because a soldier named Orlando Reeves had been killed during the Second Seminole War. He was buried in a marked grave and the area was known as Orlando’s Grave. Speer suggested just dropping the Grave part and simply call the place Orlando.
The only thing is historians agree no Orlando Reeves ever existed. The consensus is Speer simply wanted to name the place after a Shakespearian character.
(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss)