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March 6, 2012

No. 8 FSU preparing for intense road trip at UCF

Although 10 months have passed since Florida State (9-1) and Central Florida (10-2) met for a weekend series in Tallahassee, the Seminoles know very well the challenge they'll face Tuesday and Wednesday in Orlando.

After a heated three-game series ended in Florida State's favor last May, and after the Knights failed to get a chance at revenge in the Tallahassee NCAA Regional, it's safe to assume UCF will be plenty focused in the teams' upcoming two-game series.

"They've had it circled on the schedule I'm sure," said centerfielder James Ramsey. "After last year coming up here at first and then coming up for the Regional, the first time in a while they'd been in the postseason. They've got a coach that motivates them very well and we're excited for the challenge."

More than just a trio of competitive baseball games on the scoreboard, the Seminoles and Knights traded words as readily as hits throughout the weekend series. The intensity was such that it was easy to see the two teams weren't fond of one another.

"They were running their mouth a lot yesterday," second baseman Devon Travis told the media after the Seminoles took the 2011 rubber game. "I thought we needed to come out here today with a little extra intensity and I made sure I brought it for us."

Whether any extra animosity bleeds over remains to be seen. Regardless, there's plenty at stake for the eighth-ranked Seminoles and 21st-ranked Knights. Shortstop Justin Gonzalez went as far to call the match-up "an in-state rivalry now," adding that he remembers one thing above all from 2011.

"I just remember it being hard," Gonzalez said. "That's a really good ball club, and we're going to go down there expecting a dog fight."

With this week marking the Seminoles' first of four two-game weekday series, there was an opening for head coach Mike Martin to fill in the starting rotation. Tuesday night will belong to mid-week starter Luke Weaver (0-0, 40.50 ERA), the freshman's first official road appearance. Weaver rebounded from a rough debut against Jacksonville on Feb. 21 with a perfect inning of exhibition work against the Phillies in Clearwater last week.

Wednesday will serve as another opportunity for junior Scott Sitz (0-0, 5.06 ERA) to take the mound as a starter. Sitz had a forgettable relief appearance against the Knights in 2011, surrendering five runs on four hits in just two-thirds of an inning.

The Seminole pitching staff will face off against a UCF offense that has scored eight or more runs in seven of its first 12 games. The Knights are led by reigning Conference USA Player of the Year D.J. Hicks, who already has five home runs and 23 RBI to his credit.

"What if we had two top 20 football teams and two top 20 basketball teams playing right here on campus on Tuesday night," asked UCF head coach Terry Rooney. "It would be a full house. I hope people understand the magnitude of this from a baseball standpoint and come out and support it."

As for the Seminole offense, Sunday's doubleheader sweep of Maine saw the bats generate 28 runs in 16 innings, a level of productivity welcome to a team that had scored just 11 runs in its previous three games.

"The past couple of weeks, a few guys hadn't clicked until this series," Gonzalez said. "This [Maine] series showed we're clicking as an offense, and that's really important going into UCF, especially away."

Florida State has not faced Central Florida on the road since 1988, or as coach Martin called it, "many moons" ago. With Orlando hosting the first two of six straight on the road for his team, Martin knows it's time to ratchet up the focus.

"It doesn't get any easier from here boys," he quipped.

Both Tuesday and Wednesday's games are slated to begin at 6:30 p.m., with Wednesday's game being televised live on Bright House Sports Network and tape delayed on CSS, eventually airing Thursday at 1 p.m..



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