Although the University of Central Florida is not part of Conference USA, the USF baseball team would love to put a check in the win column when it plays the Golden Knights tonight at 7 on Red McEwen Field.
“The last two years in a row, nine teams from the state of Florida went to the NCAA Tournament,” USF coach Eddie Cardieri said. “So when you’re writing a resume for the NCAA tournament committee, it’s important to win those games against state teams that are also going to be in the NCAA tournament.”
Cardieri will not say that conference games are more important, but he does recognize that conference games and non-conference games play two different roles.
“We just have to understand that the conference is a vehicle to the NCAA Tournament, but the games in the middle of the week are games that will help our cause concerning an at-large bid,” Cardieri said. “So we just have to be able to shift gears.”
Non-conference games not only help the Bulls obtain an at large bid, but they helps them prepare for their weekend conference games. UCF is 20-10 overall, and has beaten C-USA team East Carolina two out of three times. The Bulls play East Carolina this weekend in a three game series.
“It’s a good team — good competition in the middle of the week to help you keep sharp for the weekend,” Cardieri said.
According to Cardieri, the Golden Knights provide good competition because they are a well-rounded team.
“They are just a solid club,” Cardieri said. “They can do it all — they can hit, they can field, they can pitch.”
The Bulls will have good preparation for two more weeks since they play an unorthodox three game series against the Golden Knights; three-games on three consecutive Tuesdays.
The first two games will be at Red McEwen Field, which Cardieri says is an advantage to his players when it comes to pregame preparation.
“It’s always easier (to play at home) because you are more used to that routine,” Cardieri said. “(The players) can go to class, they can go to study hall, they can go back to their apartment and relax. Coming to the ballpark is different than loading up a bus at (1 p.m.).”
As the Bulls fall into another week of competition, Cardieri is continuing to stress the importance of consistency, especially in the defense. That inconsistency showed through last weekend when the Bulls made five errors combined Friday and Saturday and made only one error Sunday.
Cardieri would also like to see his team build on the solid hitting displayed in Sunday’s 8-2 victory against Louisville.
Chris Wagenheim covers baseball and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org