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Baseball falls short in War on I4: Tampa Edition

UCF falls back to 3rd in AAC after 1-2 series loss to USF

C Andrew Sundean readies himself for a pitch during Game 3 of the UCF Baseball team’s series against USF last month.
Noah Goldberg

While the UCF Baseball team may have gone 4-2 against USF in 2022, those two losses resulted in a 1-2 series loss last weekend in Tampa.

With the absence of Connor Staine, two 1-hitters are much less likely, thus run support from the UCF offense would be key for victory. While this did happen in Game 1, it did not in Games 2 and 3.

Thanks to this series loss, the Knights now drop back to 3rd place in the AAC conference standings, one game behind 2nd place Houston and three behind leader East Carolina.

Game 1: Bats and Vespi get out ahead

Things started out well for the Knights in Friday’s Game 1 when a steady supply of run support made a late Bulls rally moot.

Leading the charge offensively was 3B Michael Brooks, who led the team in RBIs (4) thanks to two RBI singles and drawing a bases-loaded walk.

Alongside Brooks was the newly returned LF Lex Boedicker, who went 4-5 at the plate with two RBIs: one on a double in the 2nd inning and the other on a 6th inning single.

Joining Boedicker in the Two RBIs Club for the game were RF Trent Taylor, DH Tom Josten, and SS Noah Orlando.

By the time starting pitcher Ben Vespi exited the game after six innings, the Knights were up 9-1. During that time, he kept the Bulls at bay by allowing just the one run on three hits. He also set a new career high by striking out eight batters.

So, even though reliever Dominic Castellano gave up three runs on three hits in the last 1.2 innings of the game, the run support provided to Vespi during the first six innings held up to give the Knights the win.

Game 2: Stuck in the Carmine Lane

Both teams were more evenly matched offensively in Saturday’s Game 2 than the day before.

However, it would be one Bulls batter that ultimately made the difference on the scoreboard: 3B Carmine Lane.

Lane sported a Top 10 batting average in the conference heading into this weekend and he showed why on Saturday.

In Lane’s first at-bat of the day, the second Bulls batter overall, he hit a solo home run over the right field wall off of Knights starter William Saxton. It was one of two hits that Saxton would give up in his two innings of work before a weather delay set in, lasting just over an hour.

Upon play resuming, Chase Centala took over pitching duties for the Knights the rest of the way; six innings to be exact.

Lane then struck again in the 5th inning, this time with an RBI single, to put the Bulls up, 2-0. It was one of four hits Centala gave up in his appearance and the only run.

While UCF was able to get one back in the 7th thanks to Brooks grounding out into a double play which allowed Boedicker to score on a fielder’s choice, it would not be enough.

Despite the Knights outhitting USF, 7-6, Lane’s two RBIs gave the Bulls the victory.

Game 3: Offense, Where art thou?

While mother nature did not interfere in Sunday’s Game 3, it did have similar beats to Game 2.

Both teams were close in the hitting department, though this time the Bulls outhit the Knights, 8-6.

For the majority of the game, however, the only run scored was from USF DH Nelson Rivera via a 2nd-inning wild pitch from UCF starting pitcher Cameron Crain. It was Crain’s only wild pitch in a start that saw him go three innings, allowing just one hit and striking out three batters.

This streak of scoreless innings continued despite Knights relievers David Litchfield and Jacob Marlowe giving up a combined four hits in 1.2 innings.

It would not be until the 7th inning when, in the only hit reliever Kyle Kramer gave up in his 2.1-inning appearance, USF CF Jarrett Eaton hit an RBI single to go up, 2-0.

UCF was able to half the lead, however, thanks to a solo home-run the next inning by 1B Ben McCabe.

However, not only were the Knights not successful in getting a second run, the Bulls restored its two-run lead, making it 3-1 in the bottom of the 8th inning with SS Nick Gonzalez scoring on a fielder’s choice.

That run, given up by Saxton in his second appearance of the series, ended up being the final run of the series.

While none of UCF’s pitchers gave up more than two hits each, the Knights offense did not provide the run support as it did in Game 1, leading to the Knights losing the game and the series.

What’s Next?

The road trip continues for the Knights. First, the team will head down south for a midweek game with No. 6-ranked Miami (FL) at 6 p.m. on Wednesday.

The Knights took the win the last time these two teams met, 10-5. Though, that game was in Orlando.

After that, the team will travel to Houston next weekend to take on the Cougars, with Games 1 and 2 at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday respectively, and Game 3 at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

The Cougars boast the highest team batting average in the AAC, but the 4th-lowest team earned run average. Individually, the team’s principal hitter is Anthony Tulimero, who ranks 6th in the conference in batting average. Plus, the team has the 5th and 6th-lowest ERAs in the conference in Ben Sears, (2.78) and Kyle Lacalameto (3.26).

Player of the Series:

Ben Vespi, Starting Pitcher

Following what was already a career performance last weekend against Tulane, Vespi followed it up with another one on Friday to get his 5th win of the season.

That 5th win gives him the outright lead for the most wins of any UCF pitcher so far this season.

In addition, this performance lowered his ERA to 2.16, putting him 25th in the nation in the statistic.

Play of the Series:

CF Gephry Pena makes a fully extended diving catch early on in Game 1