If one only looks at the box scores, they will see last weekend as just the UCF Knights Baseball team being swept by conference foe East Carolina.
In the eyes of head coach Greg Lovelady, however, there is one silver lining.
“The one positive—and there’s really not many—is to know that, other than two innings, it was a very even weekend,” Lovelady said. “You look at the box scores and it’s gonna look like we got destroyed all weekend—and in a lot of ways we did, but just from the aspect of just not playing very good—but to know that those two innings are the reason why we lost is a very bleak positive that you can take out of this.”
If the two innings in question (the top halves of the 4th inning of Game 1 and 5th inning of Game 3) are not counted, the Pirates (22-15, 7-2 AAC) would still outscore the Knights (21-15, 5-4 AAC), but it would be 14-8 as opposed to 32-8.
Ultimately, the Pirates were able to expose the Knights’ mistakes for all they were worth to ensure they took all three games.
Game 1: It all started out so well
Since this weekend is Easter weekend, the series began one day earlier than normal.
At first, it was a very enjoyable occasion. The evening of Thursday’s Game 1 began with Lovelady being honored for his 300th career victory, which he got the prior weekend on the road against Memphis.
That atmosphere translated to the game as well, with the Knights striking first to go up 2-0 thanks to an RBI groundout by RF Noah Orlando and a solo home run by LF Lex Boedicker.
While East Carolina would get a home run of their own in the 2nd inning, a 2-run shot, to tie the game up, UCF responded with a two-run RBI double by 1B Ben McCabe and a two-run RBI single by C Andrew Sundean to go up 6-2 after three innings.
It was in the 4th inning that the Pirates struck. UCF starting pitcher Connor Staine, who exited his start last weekend early due to a blister on his middle finger and back issues, gave up three singles, two of which resulted in an RBI.
After the bases got loaded from an error, with only one out, Staine was pulled from the game in favor of reliever Ben Vespi. Vespi began his appearance by forcing an RBI SAC Fly. The Knights just needed one out to escape the inning and they would still be up by one, 6-5.
The Pirates proceeded to hit three RBI singles for four runs and a 2-run home run over the right-center field fence to go up 11-6.
After Vespi was switched out for fellow reliever Chase Centala, the Pirates got one more run across on an RBI single to go up 12-6. Of the 12, only four runs were earned runs.
“They just did a great job,” Lovelady said. “We couldn’t put them away. They just kept battling, fouling pitches off, and when we made mistakes, they just made us pay.”
After the 10-run top of the 4th inning, and a one-hour weather delay during the top of the 6th inning, a SAC-Fly by 3B Michael Brooks to bring home Sundean in the 8th inning was the only score either team could get across.
“I thought a little bit after the 10-run inning, the energy changed a little bit,” Lovelady said. “Just kind of got punched in the mouth and obviously it was a really big punch.”
Game 2: Two Players Down
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After a shortened appearance the previous weekend, starting pitcher Hunter Patteson was back in Friday’s Game 2, making his first start in John Euliano Park since an injury he sustained back during the UNC Greensboro series.
For three innings, he limited the Pirate offense to just one hit and struck out two batters. Then, after a one-hopper 2-0 pitch, Patteson walked to the dugout, his left arm hanging limp.
On the ESPN+ broadcast, Marc Daniels said Patteson missed time due to elbow soreness and Lovelady later said after the game that the pitcher’s injury that took him out of Saturday’s game was “similar in the description” of his injury from the UNC Greensboro series.
Once the Knights replaced Patteson with reliever William Saxton, East Carolina took advantage. The Pirates scored eight runs off of Saxton in four innings pitched on seven hits and five walks. Five of the eight ECU runs were unearned.
“There were some tough plays that were out there that unfortunately didn't go our way that we got to make,” Lovelady said. “They’re not easy plays, but we got to be able to make them.”
The Pirates added a 2-run home run in the 9th inning to give the game its final score, 10-0.
Patteson was not the only Knight to exit with an injury. SS Alex Freeland was also checked by trainers early on in the game. While he stayed in the game for a little while longer after that, Freeland was replaced at shortstop by Ryan Taylor, who moved over from second base. Daniels said it was a wrist injury on the ESPN+ broadcast.
“I told the guys, ‘We just got to be tougher. You got to handle it,’” Lovelady said. “Everybody has injuries. Yeah, we feel like we’ve had a lot, but nobody cares; the other team doesn’t care.”
Game 3: Deja Vu
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Similar to the day before, Saturday’s Game 3 did not see a team score a run for several innings. However, just like in Game 1, the Pirates only needed one inning for a majority of their runs.
A two-run RBI double, a two-run RBI single, and a grand slam home run in the 5th inning gave East Carolina the 8-0 lead. Two more runs scored in the 6th inning thanks to a hard-hit grounder bounding off of 1B Ben McCabe’s glove to make it a 10-0 game, putting the 10-run rule in play.
Orlando, playing shortstop in this game in place of Freeland, prevented a loss in such fashion with a solo home run over the left field wall. It would be the only run UCF would score in a 10-1 defeat.
Lovelady said after the game that the flu had been going around the locker room this weekend, forcing three players to miss practice on Wednesday and Centala to be sent home before Saturday’s game began. 2B Ryan Taylor exited the game in the 7th inning exhibiting similar symptoms.
Lovelady also said that he wants to see the players their strengths, put on pressure, get on base, and “play like it’s the most important game of the season.”
After hosting Jacksonville on Tuesday at 6 p.m., the Knights will travel to Kansas next weekend to take on Wichita State, with Game 1 at 7 p.m. Friday, Game 2 at 3 p.m. on Saturday, and Game 3 at 2 p.m. on Sunday.
While the Shockers rank last in the AAC in batting average and 3rd-to last in ERA, they do have the following players on their roster:
- Cameron Bye: The pitcher with the country’s lowest ERA (going into last weekend).
- Jace Kominska: Has the 3rd-most strikeouts of any AAC pitcher so far this season.
- Chuck Ingram: Has hit the 2nd-most home runs in the AAC so far this season.
Player of the Series: 1B Ben McCabe
In a series where offense was hard to come by in Games 2 and 3, McCabe was the only Knight to record a hit in all three games this weekend.