Thanks to a massive 9-run 8th inning, the UCF Knights baseball team rallied from a 4-run deficit and defeat Cincinnati, 14-10.
“We struggled from playing from behind all year,” head coach Greg Lovelady said in a post-game press conference. “Between the injuries and the bad luck and COVID and just being in those situations as much as we have and the roller coaster ride of the struggles everybody’s gone through, that’s toughened us up. So, I thought it prepared us for today.”
An Early Start
Even with the early start time at 9 a.m., UCF wasted no time getting a run on the board with catcher Josh Crouch hitting a solo home run in the top of the 1st inning.
BOOM— UCF Baseball (@UCF_Baseball) May 25, 2021
Crouch launches a solo shot to give us the 1-0 edge!#ChargeOn ⚔️ pic.twitter.com/fS9OBIgrpa
Through the first three innings, the game was kept close. While UCF starter Hunter Patteson gave up two runs, two hits, and the lead in the bottom of the 1st. However, he kept the Bearcats scoreless in the 2nd and 3rd innings.
During this time, Patteson was supported on both sides of the ball by third baseman Andrew Brait. Offensively, he hit an RBI single to right-center field to bring in shortstop Alex Freeland and would later score himself, along with designated hitter Nick Romano, off of a center fielder Gephry Pena double down the left-field line in the 2nd inning.
.@Gephryp28 comes up with the ✌️ bagger to give us the lead ⚔️— UCF Baseball (@UCF_Baseball) May 25, 2021
We're up 4-2 #ChargeOn pic.twitter.com/A4L1GMEs84
Meanwhile, on defense, Brait made a diving catch to get out No. 3 to end the 3rd inning.
ANDREW BRAIT— UCF Baseball (@UCF_Baseball) May 25, 2021
Getting it done on both sides pic.twitter.com/Wn5tLTULP2
The Knights entered the 4th inning with a 4-2 lead. Then, everything changed.
The 4th inning: The Fall
Ever since his return to the rotation, Patteson has allowed 5 runs in 13.0 innings pitched. In the 3.1 innings he pitched against Cincinnati, he gave up 6 runs on 5 hits and 3 walks.
“I just think he wasn’t sharp,” Lovelady said. “Obviously he walked three guys in three innings, but even then his command was just below what he has been able to do, especially in the last month.”
Lovelady also said Patteson has been having issues with the command of his fastball, where the pitcher “really lives.”
“The fastball command just wasn’t there and it just made it really hard to call pitches and made it really hard to execute and get into good counts,” Lovelady said.
The pitching troubles continued with reliever Zack Hunsicker, who took over for Patteson with the bases loaded. In the four batters he faced, he allowed an RBI single to left field and 2 walks with the bases loaded.
After four batters, Billy McKay took over pitching duties and while he did allow a bases-loaded walk of his own, he did get UCF out of the inning.
All told, UCF gave up 5 runs on 4 hits in the 4th inning, giving Cincinnati a 7-4 lead.
“We just kind of got punched in the mouth there,” Lovelady said. “Energy changed and the next couple innings we kind of slept walked through.”
Over the next three innings, the only scores from either team came courtesy of a solo home-run from Cincinnati right fielder Paul Komistek.
The UCF offense was stymied by Cincinnati’s starting pitcher Garrett Schoenle and the relief pitcher that took over for him in the 6th inning, Beau Keathley.
Schoenle, after pitching for 5.0 innings, finished his day allowing 4 hits, 4 runs and striking out 7 batters. Those 7 batters he struck out made up a third of the total number of batters he faced.
It was a similar stat line from the last time Schoenle pitched against the Knights on April 9, where he gave up 3 hits and struck out 6 batters. However, this time, UCF was able to score 4 runs on the pitcher as opposed to just the 1 from last time.
Lovelady also said that the offense did a great job sticking to a game plan that would get Schoenle off of the mound faster.
“We wanted to up his pitch count,” Lovelady said. “We wanted to try to get him out of the game and get to the bullpen.”
The Top of the 8th Inning: The Rise
Keathley had already been in the game for two innings and allowed no hits by the time the top of the 8th inning arrived. However, two more Cincinnati pitchers would end up taking the mound in the hopes to contain the rallying UCF offense.
In the top of the 8th inning alone, the UCF offense got 7 hits and 9 runs. This ties the mark for the most runs UCF has scored in one inning with their 9-run top of the 5th inning against Troy on March 28. To put things in perspective in terms of this game, UCF would finish with 12 hits and 14 runs. This means that UCF got 58% of its hits and 64% of its runs in the 8th inning alone.
“The way you can beat a team is by just trying to get the next guy up, passing the bat, and having tough at-bats and the pressure’s on them when there’s runners in scoring position to be able to execute pitches at a high level,” Lovelady said. “We got to do a good job of trying to spoil good pitches and be able to get hits on when we get, for them, bad pitches, but for us, balls that are in the middle of the plate.”
The Knights took the lead when a single by Romano to left field brought home 2B Tom Josten.
ROOOO!!— UCF Baseball (@UCF_Baseball) May 25, 2021
Josten scores on the Romano knock! Knights take the lead‼️
UCF 9, Cincinnati 8 #ChargeOn ⚔️ pic.twitter.com/rv6CFAzTEQ
The inning was later capped by right fielder Jordan Rathbone, hitting a 3-run home run toward the Frenchy’s Tiki Pavillion beyond the left field wall. It was his 15th home run of the season and it gave UCF a 13-8 lead.
STAY HOT, KID @NillaBone7 left no doubt about that one pic.twitter.com/Zb2HL5G3bx— UCF Baseball (@UCF_Baseball) May 25, 2021
It’s not over until it’s over
UCF closer David Litchfield has been in situations like this before, where he’s had to protect a lead in the late innings. However, the Cincinnati offense would prove to be a struggle down to the very last at-bat.
Komistek would end up finishing the game with 5 RBIs, more than half the team’s total for the game (9). Litchfield would pitch against him twice. The first time, Komistek hit a 2-run home run to center field, his second homer of the game. It brought the score to 13-10.
“He did a great job,” Lovelady said. “When we made mistakes, he made us pay and that’s what good hitters are supposed to do.”
However, the second time would be in the bottom of the 9th inning with the bases loaded and two outs. Litchfield was now defending a 14-10 lead thanks to an insurance run scored by the Knights in the top of the inning. If Komistek had a repeat performance of his last at-bat against Litchfield, the game would be tied.
“Not to say that [Litchfield’s] not nervous, but he knows how to handle it,” Lovelady said. “He knows how to just go out there and continue to execute pitches. It’s a tough situation that he put himself into, but if you just worry about this pitch right now, you don’t worry about, ‘Oh my gosh, the bases are loaded,’ what could happen.”
Komistek would end up flying out to left field, giving the Knights the win.
“The roller coaster ride of the season just continued through the game,” Lovelady said.
The victory gives UCF a day off on Wednesday before coming back to play their next game on Thursday at 3 p.m..
“I’m glad we get the day off and that’ll get us back to as close to full strength as we possibly can,” Lovelady said.
The team will be playing the No. 8 seed Memphis Tigers who are coming off an upset win in 7 innings (thanks to the 10-run rule) against No. 1 seed East Carolina, 11-1.
.@MemphisBaseball run rules the top-seeded Pirates and will advance to the winner's bracket to face UCF on Thursday. #AmericanBaseball pic.twitter.com/3IiGI9Zp3g— American Baseball (@American_BSB) May 25, 2021
Memphis has not been an overall offensive powerhouse this year. The Tigers currently have a .227 team batting average, the worst in the league. In addition, UCF won 3 of 4 games in their regular season series with Memphis.
However, even if the offense’s performance against East Carolina was a fluke, Memphis still has one player that is a threat every time he comes to the plate, catcher Hunter Goodman. Goodman is the conference leader in home runs (21) and has the conference’s 13th-highest batting average (.316).
Goodman hit three home runs and was intentionally walked 5 times by the Knights in their regular season series against Memphis.
On the defensive side of the ball, Memphis starter Carson Stinnett pitched 6.1 innings in that game, allowing only 5 hits and 1 run. UCF batters got 5 hits and 7 runs against Stinnett when he started back in Game 2 of the teams’ April 30 doubleheader in the regular season. However, he will not be pitching in the game against UCF, just like the Knights’ starter Hunter Patteson.
While Memphis has not revealed its starter for its game against the Knights, there is a chance it could be Chris Durham. He started Game 1 of the regular season series, which UCF lost via run rule, 12-2, and allowed 6 hits and 2 runs in 7.0 innings.
However, he did not make an appearance in Memphis’ final regular season series against Wichita State. Whether he was being rested and saved for the tournament or is nursing an injury is unknown. However, if Durham is the starter against UCF, he will be another player to keep an eye on.
As for the Knights pitchers, the one that went the longest against Memphis in the regular season was Jack Sinclair, who started Game 4 and pitched 5.0 innings, allowing 5 hits and 2 runs. Lovelady did not confirm if Sinclair would start the Memphis game in his post-game press conference.
“Whoever we decide to start, whether it’s Jack [Sinclair] or somebody else, we’ll be ready to go,” Lovelady said.
As the team progresses into the winner’s bracket Lovelady said that this season has toughened the players, making them “feel calloused” to being down or having their backs against the wall, just like they were against the Bearcats.
“I feel like the team has grown up over the year that’s what’s allowed us to play the way we needed to play from the seventh or eighth inning on, just to never quit,” Lovelady said.