It was a huge weekend for Greg Lovelady’s young UCF Knights team as they headed on the road for a big non-conference series against the top-10 ranked Auburn Tigers, who made the College World Series last year and have several future MLB Draft prospects on their roster.
We would learn that this team was up to the task and then some, as the Knights made program history and swept the Tigers on the plain, ending with a dominant 12-2 win on Sunday.
UCF had never swept a road non-conference weekend series against a top 25 team in program history, and in its 125-year history, Auburn had never been swept at home in a non-conference three-game series.
It is the second time in program history that the Knights swept a nationally-ranked SEC team, as UCF swept then-#11 Alabama at home back in February of 2011. The last time the Knights picked up a non-conference road weekend series win over a top-25 ranked team in a “Power 5” conference was the weekend of May 7-9 of 2004, when the Knights took two of three at #13 Clemson.
It is the first non-conference weekend series win over a top-25 team the Knights have had since the weekend of February 27-March 1st of 2015, when the Knights hosted Blake Bortles’ younger brother Colby and the 18th-ranked Ole Miss Rebels. The Knights won two of three in that series.
Winning against #8-ranked Auburn matches the highest-ranked team that UCF has ever beaten in a weekend series, tied with the series sweep of #8 Stetson in DeLand on the weekend of May 5-6 of 2001 in what was then a top-25 A-Sun Conference showdown.
In other words, this was not just any other weekend of UCF Baseball.
How did the Knights do it?
They overpowered the Tigers with incredible pitching depth, timely hitting, and good defense.
Overall, UCF pitching had 33 strikeouts while giving up just 6 runs, 21 hits, and just a .196 batting average to the Tigers, allowing only five extra-base hits for the weekend.
Offensively, the Knights scored 22 runs on 34 hits with 9 doubles and 4 homers, hitting .320 on the weekend against one of the top pitching staffs in college baseball.
Friday: UCF 3, Auburn 1
The historic weekend began on Friday when Knights starter Colton Gordon set the tone, going six innings, striking out seven, and giving up only one run as he out-pitched the Tigers’ ace, Tanner Burns, who is projected to be a top-10 MLB draft pick this summer.
Jordan Rathbone drove in two runs in the game, including a solo homer in the 6th inning that would give the Knights a 3-1 lead.
The Knights’ bullpen would hold up the lead as Jack Sinclair, David Litchfield, and Jeff Hankanson closed the door on the win.
Saturday: UCF 7, Auburn 3
On Saturday, Trevor Holloway went five innings, striking out nine and giving up only one run.
The Knights took the lead in the top of the 4th, when Rathbone homered for the second straight day, blasting a two-run shot to give the Knights a 2-1 lead.
The UCF offense exploded, scoring four runs in the top of 6th inning to go up 6-1, and Dalton Wingo would add to it in the 7th with one of his two doubles, driving in his second run of the game to push the lead to 7-1.
Auburn did not go down quietly, as they scored a run in 8th inning and loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom of the 9th. Up 7-3, the Knights had to call on Jeff Hankanson to shut the door for the second straight day.
No problem, as Hankanson retired three straight Tigers (the last two by strikeout) to clinch the series.
Hakanson does it again with the -out!— UCF Baseball (@UCF_Baseball) February 22, 2020
Afterwards, a happy Greg Lovelady was pleased with the guys’ performance:
True toughness from a great team pic.twitter.com/hu02Elds2x— UCF Baseball (@UCF_Baseball) February 22, 2020
Sunday: UCF 12, Auburn 2
On Sunday, Joe Sheridan continued his return, going five innings with five strikeouts and giving up just one run to pick up his first win in exactly 25 months.
Joe Sheridan is in line for his first win since March 23, 2018 after going five innings today. He gave up five hits (four singles), one run, one walk and recorded five strikeouts. #UCF— Brian Murphy (@Spokes_Murphy) February 23, 2020
UCF’s offense scored five runs on five hits in the top of 3rd, highlighted by homers from Tom Josten and Pablo Ruiz. The Knights never looked back.
It is only the first two weeks, but Greg Lovelady finally has his guys that he has recruited, and if this weekend is any indication, the future is looking really bright.