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April 16, 2012Terry Rooney's mantra before the season was for this year's UCF baseball team to take the next step and go from "good to great."
They're certainly on their way.
For the first time since 2001, the Knights (30-8) have entered the top ten with a No. 10 ranking in the NCBWA Poll.
It's one of many tremendous accomplishments in Rooney's tenure since taking over the program prior to the 2009 season, but none would be sweeter than reaching the College World Series in Omaha.
This year's team has a legitimate chance to do just that.
While there is no singular talent on the mound like a Justin Pope or Jason Arnold who drew scouts en masse to UCF's games in 2001, this year's pitching staff is better across the board which is a necessity for making a big postseason run.
The Knights shuffled the weekend rotation in the lead-up to conference play, but appear to have found the consistency they've been looking for in Brian Adkins, Chris Matulis and Ray Hanson. Ben Lively has proven invaluable as a relief option and could also make a case to start. The same goes for freshmen Garrett Nuss and Eric Skoglund.
If UCF can get a solid six or seven innings out of the starter, there hasn't been a better 1-2 closing punch than Roman Madrid and Joe Rogers. As a staff, the Knights lead Conference USA with a 2.83 earned run average.
To get to Omaha, the odds are much better if you can host a NCAA Regional and the Knights are certainly in that discussion. As long as the wins continue to pile up, it could come down to UCF or Miami for the third hosting site in Florida unless the NCAA grants an unprecedented fourth Sunshine State regional.
There's still another month to go, but the final weekend of the regular season already looms large. The two teams at the top of the C-USA standings - UCF and Rice - meet in Orlando May 17-19. Not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but that could be a pivotal weekend with not only C-USA implications but nationally as well. The Owls are No. 7 in this week's Baseball America poll.
In the meantime, UCF will host a midweek game this Tuesday as Florida Atlantic (24-13) pays a visit to Jay Bergman Field. The Knights are looking for the in-season sweep after winning 11-3 in Boca Raton on March 27. With a 12-3 league record, FAU currently sits atop of the Sun Belt Conference standings.
The Knights return to conference play this weekend when they travel to New Orleans for a three-game tilt against Tulane (25-11).
O'Donnell is moving on up
Mike O'Donnell has resigned his post as Director of Basketball Operations to accept a new job in the athletic department as Assistant AD/Chief of Staff. O'Donnell, who played for the Knights from 2005-08, will work directly under new AD Todd Stansbury. He began his new post last week.
Among other duties, O'Donnell will become the face of UCF Athletics to the community and former student-athletes, which is a focus of Stansbury. He will be front and center during the UKnight Tours this spring.
Another possible benefit of O'Donnell's new position: There's a chance he could return to broadcasting as color analyst during UCF basketball radio broadcasts. Marc Daniels and O'Donnell provided an outstanding tandem two years ago ("Oh, Mamacita!").
Hornstein to FIU
Best of luck and a big thank you goes out to Joe Hornstein, who began a new job at FIU on Monday. Hornstein, who became a familiar face to many in the UCF community during his five years as Assistant AD of Communications, will certainly be missed in Orlando.
For those in the media, he was a valuable and friendly resource that was always just a phone call or text away. He extended the same courtesy to UCF fans as he always went above and beyond to answer questions or assist with issues.
As part of the transition team that saw the football and basketball programs move into new on-campus facilities, Hornstein worked tirelessly to promote the programs on both the local and national level. He was instrumental in the continued development of UCFAthletics.com, which is regarded today as one of the nation's best official school websites.
His responsibilties at times went beyond media relations as he helped build the Hall of Fame banquet and spring game into marquee events.
His experience at UCF will translate well into his new position at FIU, a growing program which faces many of the same challenges. Under football coach Mario Cristobal, the Golden Panthers have made a splash with back-to-back bowl games and last season defeated both Louisville and UCF. They could move to a bigger stage if the new Conference USA/Mountain West collaboration comes calling as has been speculated.
Hornstein will return to Orlando when FIU visits UCF on Sept. 15 for the home opener.
This and that
The model to follow is Southern Miss, which provides radio coverage of every game home and away (and on multiple affiliates). Of course, Southern Miss is pretty much the only game in town when it comes to the Hattiesburg, Miss., market.
I'm told it's a complicated issue on several fronts since there are three entities in play (UCF, IMG, 740 The Game).
In the future, you'd like to see at least a full conference schedule on radio.
Before every season, each school's marketing department is versed on proper logo usage of C-USA member schools. Given the disdain for UCF by some at Marshall, it makes you wonder if the logo switcheroo was an intentional act.
Since both schools joined C-USA in 2005, UCF is a perfect 7-0 against the Thundering Herd.
Bowen was the No. 2 finalist during UCF's athletic director search.
In Orsini's defense, that's a program where big-time boosters call the shots. They're insisting on a "name" coach and are willing to foot a salary of $2 million (or more) per year. To contrast, Donnie Jones makes about $600,000 at UCF.
The Mustangs may end up hiring former NBA coach Larry Brown, who has been quite vocal in stating his interest for the job. Brown, who will be 72 later this year, met with SMU officials in Dallas over the weekend.
Elevating the basketball program is Orsini's primary objective since SMU will join UCF, Houston, Memphis and Temple in the BIG EAST come 2013-14. For a program that's arguably been the worst in C-USA, that's a big undertaking.