It’s safe to say that Bryce Tucker had a breakout 2017 season right alongside the rest of the program.
In 2016, the Knights, frankly, weren’t very good. They finished 26-33 overall and 8-16 in American Athletic Conference play, tying them for last in the league with in-state rival USF, a program that suffered a down year because they were breaking in a ton of supremely talented but incredibly inexperienced players who just weren’t quite ready for prime time, to use a phrase for all you old school Saturday Night Live fans out there.
Tucker, then a freshman, struggled a bit as well in his opportunities. In 12 appearances, five of which were starts, he had a 5.40 in 28.1 innings. He struck out 24, which showed some of his potential, but wildness was a huge issues, as he walked 19 and hit ten batters, giving him more free passes on the season than strikeouts.
The 2017 season was a completely different story.
UCF enjoy a stark turnaround under first-year head coach Greg Lovelady. They went 40-22 overall and won the American with a 15-9 record, completing the worst-to-first makeover in just one year.
Tucker, this time in a defined role as the team’s closer, was a huge part of their success. He appeared in 27 games, all in relief, and tossed 38 innings. He had a 1.66 ERA, nine saves, a 55/12 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and a .154 opponent batting average. He fulfilled the promise he had shown the year before by vastly increasing his strikeout numbers, while also corralling his biggest issue, control, by limiting his free passes to 17 (12 walks and 5 HBP). That was also enough to catch the eye of USA Baseball, as the reliever spent his summer pitching for Collegiate Team USA.
In 2018, Tucker will help lead what should be another stout UCF squad. He’ll be joined on the mound by fellow returnees Eric Hepple, Thad Ward, Chris Williams, and Joe Sheridan, all of whom also played big roles in 2017, to say nothing of the returning Cre Finfrock, who missed all of 2017 due to injury. At the plate, the Knights will also return the likes of Rylan Thomas, Matthew Mika, and Logan Heiser.
The challenge now for UCF is to go from being a one-time regional entrant when the stars align to being a stalwart in postseason play, a feat that has largely alluded them since the peak of the Jay Bergman era in the 90s and early-00s. That starts with a good 2018 season with Tucker leading the way on the pitching staff, something that seems entirely likely.