Last weekend was a big deal for the UCF Knights Baseball team, head coach Greg Lovelady said.
After two consecutive 1-2 weekend series, the Knights (18-10, 3-0 AAC) opened conference play by sweeping USF at John Euliano Park, outscoring the Bulls 17-4.
“What a weekend,” Lovelady said. “I mean, we just came out and really played; really starting to put things together and it’s been fun.”
Game 1: Want to see us one-hit the Bulls?
Part of putting things together came in the form of players fully returning from injury, namely starting pitcher Connor Staine.
After a shortened starting appearance on Sunday against Samford, Friday night’s Game 1 marked Staine’s return to the Friday night starter spot for the first time since undergoing back spasms on March 18.
While the game was played on the evening of April Fool’s Day, Staine was not joking around.
Staine ended up pitching six innings, allowing only one hit, three walks and striking out eight of the 21 batters he faced. Though, Staine said the Bulls batters did a great job and made him change his two-strike game plan.
“I can’t really complain,” Staine said. “I would like to cut down the walks, that was frustrating. I’ve had A-game stuff my last two full outings, it’s only a matter of time before I don’t have that and this was one of those days.”
For those wondering, he only allowed 1 hit (8 on the season) improving his BAA to .082. https://t.co/YDBE4XMg83— UCF Baseball Analytics (@KnightsBSBData) April 1, 2022
The one hit Staine allowed ended up being the only one allowed by a Knights pitcher the entire game, making it the first combined one-hitter for UCF since April 2018, which was also a game against USF.
“At the end of the day, I feel like it was just us going out and working on us,” Lovelady said.
Thanks to the work of Staine, Kyle Kramer, and Chase Centala on the mound, the UCF offense needed only minimum run support to clinch the victory.
Helping the unit out was the fact that the Bulls ace pitcher, Jack Jasiak, would not make an appearance in the series due to injury, USF Bulls Unlimited host Darek Sharp said in a Twitter post later in the weekend. However, the team still had to face Orion Kerkering, whose 2.06 ERA is the 3rd-lowest in the AAC this season.
Despite this, the scoring was underway in the very 1st inning, with DH Tom Josten getting hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, bringing home CF Gephry Pena. Pena would later bring Josten home via an RBI single in the 4th, and between both of those instances, LF Lex Boedicker hit an RBI single of his own to bring home RF Noah Orlando.
However, it was SS Alex Freeland that hit the lone home run of the game.
“Just trying to do whatever I can to help us win,” Freeland said.
Lovelady said he was proud of the team for getting a “big start” to the weekend, especially considering the results from the two prior weekend series.
“We talked a lot about this being a fresh start and wiping the slate clean, and we came out today and just played really really good baseball,” Lovelady said.
Game 2: You want to see us do it again?
SCHEDULE UPDATE— UCF Baseball (@UCF_Baseball) April 2, 2022
Today's game against USF has been postponed to tomorrow at 11 am. Tickets for today's game will be valid for the 11 am game!#ChargeOn⚔️
Since Mother Nature forced Game 2 to be postponed, the series would end on Sunday with a doubleheader.
The first game, Game 2, retreaded the same ground as the game from a couple of days prior. Starting pitcher William Saxton and relievers Ben Vespi and Centala combined for another one-hitter, though Saxton did not have as long as an appearance as Staine did.
The trio combined to strike out nine of the 27 Bulls batters that stepped into the batter’s box.
As for the Knights’ luck in the batter’s box, it too was similar to Friday night, with only a few runs needed to secure the win and more runners left on base than there were runs scored.
However, it did provide an avenue for several true freshmen to showcase their offensive abilities. C Andrew Sundean brought home LF Lex Boedicker on an RBI single, 2B Ryan Taylor scored on a wild pitch and later hit an RBI single that scored DH Tom Josten, and Boedicker himself went 2-3 at the plate for the game.
“We came here with the idea that we want to win a championship,” Sundean said. “We didn’t come here scared to show out and do our thing.”
However, it also featured the latest in the resurgence of a veteran, as 1B Ben McCabe hit his first home run since Feb. 20.
After going almost four years without a combined doubleheader, the Knights were able to throw two in a single weekend. However, the next game was a different story.
Game 3: Coming Back to get the broom
The Knights fell behind early on in Game 3 after starting pitcher David Litchfield gave up four runs in the 2nd inning.
However, they would end up being the only four runs the Bulls would score all weekend, as Ruddy Gomez and Kramer kept them hitless for the final five innings.
“I’m doing it for my boys behind me,” Kramer said. “It’s awesome knowing that I’m able to secure them, we’re able to get the sweep. Overall, just playing for your friends and you brothers, it’s just an awesome feeling.”
It would be up to the offense to make the comeback and it did just that with a five-run 5th inning.
Highlights from this inning include the first collegiate career home run by Sundean and Josten scoring thanks to Boedicker grounding into a fielder’s choice and beating out the throw to 1st base to complete the double play by the slimmest of margins.
“It came off the bat and, you know, being the first one I couldn’t really watch it, but when it went over the fence it really made me feel good,” Sundean said. “Everything that I’ve been working on and doing in the cages and now on the field, it’s really showing my swing.”
1B Ben McCabe ended up hitting the go-ahead 2-run RBI single that gave the Knights the lead and would go on to go a perfect 4-4 in the batter’s box for the game.
It really is a monster bat, isn't it @BMcCabe_8.— UCF Baseball Analytics (@KnightsBSBData) April 3, 2022
His double to right-center in ⬆️5️⃣ marks the hardest exit velocity from a Knight THIS WHOLE SEASON with 112.6 !!
UCF would nurse this one-run lead until the 8th, where the offense scored three insurance runs thanks to an RBI SAC Fly, a wild pitch, and an error by Bulls 1B Roberto Pena. Those three runs ensured the victory, completing the sweep.
“It’s just really hard to sweep anyone,” Lovelady said. “It’s just the way our league is, it’s just a grind every weekend, so anytime you can get a sweep, it’s really a plus and a huge accomplishment by the guys.”
The team hits the road. First, it’s a trip down south to Boca Raton to take on Florida Atlantic at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Then, for the weekend, the team will travel to Memphis to take on the Tigers. Game 1 begins at 7 p.m. on Friday, Game 2 is less than 24 hours later at 3 p.m. on Saturday, and Sunday’s Game 3 caps off with a 1 p.m. start time.
Player of the Series: C Andrew Sundean
The true freshman catcher, nicknamed Sunny D, gets this week’s honor for the second consecutive weekend, and it’s not just because he hit his first collegiate home run.
Coming into this series, Sundean only had one multi-hit game. This weekend, he had three straight. While it did not always lead to a run, getting on base was all he had control over, and he did just that.
Sundean said it was “something else” to know that the next guy after him is “definitely gonna do his job.”
“It’s not something you got to worry about,” Sundean said. “Being a freshman coming out of high school, it’s just me and maybe two or three other guys that can really hit the ball and I had to worry about that after I hit, but here we just got a team of hitters. They just go up there and they do their job and that’s something to watch.”
Sundean’s impact also translated defensively, since he sat behind the plate for all three games. He said it was “beautiful” to catch in a series that kept the Bulls scoreless for all but one inning.
“It’s the best thing a catcher can ask for,” Sundean said. “You always want to be in and out, especially as a catcher and a pitcher. You don’t want any runners on and that makes my job a lot easier and makes me look better that my pitchers are doing their job.”
That said, it does not mean Sundean sat idle behind the plate since he did need to turn a double play in Game 2.
Additionally, Lovelady said in his post-game interview on Sunday how Sundean was one of the fastest turnarounds he’s had in his career, from being “lost” in the fall to seizing the starting job to now getting multiple hits in every single game of a series.
If that doesn’t warrant this weekend’s honor, even if it is for the second-straight weekend, then I don’t know what does.