The UCF Baseball team has suffered some tough losses this season, But arguably no loss stings as much as Wednesday’s defeat to No. 17 Florida State. Inarguably, it was the Knights’ weirdest loss of 2021.
First, some background: No team has played better over the past week than the Seminoles. They entered Wednesday as winners of five consecutive games, including victories over top-10 teams such as Florida and Miami by the ridiculous margin of 44-4.
But this would be no blowout. UCF starting pitcher Kenny Serwa limited Florida State to four runs on just five hits and no walks through five innings, and he was backed up by the trio of Hunter Patteson, Billy McKay and David Litchfield. That group allowed one measly single and no runs from innings six through nine.
That pitching along with UCF’s offense fighting back from a pair of two-run deficits took this 4-4 game into extra innings. In the 10th, the Knights gained a lead when third baseman Andrew Brait scored on an error. Only three outs stood between the Knights and a statement midweek win.
— UCF Baseball (@UCF_Baseball) March 25, 2021
Final from Tallahassee
Litchfield took the mound for the 10th, his third inning of work. It started a little rocky when one of his fastballs ran inside on Ryan Romano and hit him on the elbow. It got rockier five pitches later when the same thing happened to the next batter, Elijah Cabell. Same pitch. Same inside run. Same collision with a left arm.
Greg Lovelady struck with Litchfield despite the two HBPs, but after Litchfield walked Tyler Martin — which was the first walk issued by the Knights — and then spiked his first offering to Matheu Nelson, Lovelady had no choice. He called upon Zack Hunsicker to maintain the lead with the bases being loaded and no outs.
At first blush, it looked like it might work as Hunsicker got Nelson to pop up a 1-1 pitch. Behold what happened next:
Here's that bizarre infield fly rule play that ended up tying the game in the 10th. #UCF https://t.co/wGfPXUpYmH pic.twitter.com/qHpcSkYcAz— Black & Gold Banneret (@UCF_Banneret) March 25, 2021
As the ball rose up above the right side of the infield, you could tell immediately that UCF first baseman Nick Romano, Ryan’s brother, couldn’t see it. Arms stretched out to his side and shooting quick glances to see if there was any help nearby, he was lost. At the same time, the first-base umpire raised his right arm up to signal an infield fly.
The ball landed about 10 feet behind Romano on the infield dirt. Second baseman John Montes rushed over and threw home as Ryan Romano charged in from third. The throw beat him by a mile, and catcher Ben McCabe stepped on home plate to record the out. Or so he thought.
Again, the umpire at first had already made the call for an infield fly. By rule, the batter is out at that moment and all other runners are free to run at their own risk. But because the batter is out, that means a play at any other base requires a tag. McCabe didn’t apply any tag, so the Seminoles tied the score up on what goes down officially as a popout to first.
You do not see that often.
After that chaos, an intentional walk reloaded the bases and put the possibility of a double play back on the table. Hunsicker then induced a slow grounder to short, and Alex Freeland threw home to record the second out (hey, a force out).
Now all the Knights needed was one more out to push this game into the 11th. Their hopes were dashed, however, as Hunsicker walked Reese Albert on five pitches to drive in the winning run.
Noles tie it up on a infield fly and walk it off on a walk in the 10th. That’s 7 straight wins over teams in state of Florida.— 11Point7: The College Baseball Podcast (@11point7) March 25, 2021
2021 is NOT the year of the Knight. UCF falls to 9-12. pic.twitter.com/4Xpwsd9nsf
Wednesday’s heartbreak represented UCF’s sixth loss this season by one run. They have paid a price for a lack of clutch hitting and for their mistakes in the field. The middle game at No. 1 Ole Miss, when UCF led by two runs in the bottom of the ninth only to allow three, stands out as a particularly painful L. But most of that comeback was orchestrated by just good hitting. There was an error that made a huge difference, but the Rebels did a lot to create that outcome.
On Wednesday, the hardest contact from any FSU player in the 10th inning was probably made by the elbows of Ryan Romano and Elijah Cabell as they got in the way of Litchfield’s fastballs. No batted balls left the infield. Nine innings with zero walks preceded one inning with three.
RBI popout that traveled about 100 feet
That is how the UCF Knights lost in extra innings of a road game against the hottest team in college baseball.
They will have about 48 hours to move past this one before opening a three-game road series versus the Troy Trojans. But outright forgetting how Wednesday ended seems impossible.