What’s wrong with UCF Baseball? On this evening in Mississippi, nothing.
Colton Gordon was a horse on the mound, and the Knights’ offense supplied just enough pop as UCF defeated the top-ranked Ole Miss Rebels in Oxford, 3-2.
It was the program’s third win ever against the nation’s No. 1 team and its first since victories over the Florida Gators on consecutive nights in March 2018.
Just won our 5th straight SEC road game ⚔️ pic.twitter.com/nQG6vnAvVF— UCF Baseball (@UCF_Baseball) February 27, 2021
For basically everyone outside of the Knights’ dugout, it’s an unexpected result. UCF had dropped three of its first four games, allowing 45 runs in the process, Meanwhile, the Rebels were riding a 20-game winning streak and the momentum provided by a trio of wins over top-10 competition last weekend.
But momentum is fickle, baseball is weird, and the Knights are good. Remember that.
Gordon showed why head coach Greg Lovelady trusts him as his Friday night starter. The redshirt sophomore rebounded from an uneven 2021 debut versus Florida Atlantic and quieted the Rebels’ bats through seven strong innings.
Gordon gave up three consecutive two-out hits in the fourth inning as Ole Miss got on the board first, but he seemed to grow stronger from there. He struck out six, walked one and retired 10 of the last 11 men he faced.
He was the reason why UCF hung around in this game. But the offense didn’t do much to back Gordon as it recorded one hit through six innings. Then their bats got loud in the seventh.
Jordan Rathbone sent a ball just over the wall in left to tie the game and then Josh Crouch crushed a pitch beyond the 365-foot marker in left-center field to put UCF ahead, 2-1.
After another easy frame from Gordon, it was up to the UCF bullpen to preserve the upset. More precisely, it was up to right-hander David Litchfield. He sailed through the eighth on seven pitches. In the ninth, after UCF tacked on an insurance run, Litchfield surrendered a two-out homer to Hayden Dunhurst and hit the next batter, just to ratchet up the tension a few notches. But he induced a ground out from Hayden Leatherwood to end the game and set off a celebration.
It was Ole Miss’ first defeat since a losing to then-No. 1 Louisville on Valentine’s Day 2020. It was also Lovelady’s first game back as the Knights’ head coach after he tested positive for COVID-19 last week.
Praise God my family and I are healthy, Praise God I’m back with my guys, Praise God for the W!— Greg Lovelady (@CoachLovelady23) February 27, 2021
Use this game as evidence of the dangers in panicking about a club four games into a 56-game season. The Knights are not the best team in the country, but they are certainly better than their record and their play from the opening week indicates. This is still the same team that was projected to finish second in the AAC and qualify for an NCAA Regional as a No. 2 seed.
A sour start to the season doesn’t change that. Granted, one grand night in Mississippi doesn’t cure all ails either. The UCF Knights are somewhere in that wide middle and, ultimately, probably who we thought they were a little more than a week ago.
With poor weather in the forecast, the Knights and Rebels will play a doubleheader on Saturday. The first game, scheduled to start at 2 p.m. Eastern, appears on paper to be another legit pitching duel. UCF’s Hunter Patteson was smacked around for 10 runs last weekend, but he’s a former MLB Draft pick who was the Knights’ best pitcher this past fall and has the best pure stuff on the staff. He’ll match up against Gunnar Hoglund, a possible first-round pick in this year’s draft. He began his season by striking out 11 batters in 5.1 innings against then-No. 3 Texas Tech.