Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Fall Practice Underway at UCF

ORLANDO, Fla. ( - Just over four months after UCF's 2007 season came to a close, the Knights officially began preparing for 2008 when fall camp opened at Jay Bergman Field Monday. The Black and Gold was greeted with windy conditions and a little bit of rain, as the Knights are hoping to have a few questions answered in the upcoming weeks.

"The weather was a little cooler than it was in the month of September, and the players were anxious to get on the field and start playing baseball," said head coach Jay Bergman, who is starting his 26th season at the helm of the program. "They've been spending a lot of time lifting weights and doing some four-on-one stuff, but now we can get on the field as a team.

"The general attitude of the players has been very good all fall, and it was good the second half of last season. Our players have matured and are understanding the level of competition we are playing in. They are working hard to improve their skills so they will be able to compete at the Conference USA level.

"By the end of the month, I hope that we will have established ourselves defensively, and at least have found out that we have five, maybe six starting pitchers. Offensively we want to be able to move the runners and find out who is going to hit with runners in scoring position. So I think that is what we are looking for at the end of fall practice. If we can accomplish those things, then this fall will be very beneficial."

Bergman's squad went 27-32 in 2007 and 7-17 in its second season in C-USA. The Knights went 1-2 in the C-USA Championship, eliminating Houston May 24 in what was the first 1-0 win in league tournament history. For 2008, UCF returns all eight of its defensive starters, its top three starting pitchers and its closer. However, the Black and Gold lost its designated hitter (senior Matt Horwath - .336 BA) and two key setup men (senior Brian Brooks - UCF's career record-holder in relief appearances with 82, senior Derek Abriola - ranks fifth in relief appearances with 62).

On Monday, UCF was working hard at moving runners from second base with less than two outs and did not seem to be having difficulties sending the ball to right field. Sophomore third baseman Chris Duffy, meanwhile, discovered a groove in batting practice, placing numerous line drives into the outfield grass.

In a short live-game session, the coaching staff got a look at LSU transfer Robert Lara behind the plate, and he immediately showed off his defensive tactics by backing up a wild throw to first base to keep the runner from going to second. The staff also got its first glimpse of junior-college transfer Colin Arnold, as the 47th-round MLB draft pick saw time in left field.

Team two completed their inning at the dish when senior catcher/first baseman Tim Russell drove in junior outfielder Chadd Hartman from second base on a single down the right-field line. With team one at the plate, junior first baseman Kiko Vazquez, senior second baseman Dwayne Bailey and junior shortstop Eric Kallstrom all ripped line drives to lead-off the inning. And Duffy sent a hard shot to the gap in right-center that would have been a double if the wind did not hold it up long enough for the outfield to get to it. On the bases, senior right fielder Ryan Richardson received a lot of praise for his work in breaking up a double play with a hard slide into second base. UCF coaches Craig Cozart and Bryan Peters did the pitching for the Knights.

UCF's fall camp is scheduled to come to a close in early November.

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