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Baseball falls in final regular-season series

Knights still clinch No. 2 seed in Clearwater

Courtesy of UCF Athletics

The series may have resulted in a loss, but the one win the UCF Knights Baseball team did get paid off.

Thanks to East Carolina’s sweep of Houston, the Knights will be the No. 2 seed in the American Athletic Conference Tournament in Clearwater.

Game 1: Shootout

Due to a foreboding weather forecast, all the game were moved up. In the case of Games 1 and 2, they would be played in a double header on Thursday.

In said Game 1, the Knights jumped out to an early lead and managed to keep the Bearcats at enough of an arm’s length to get the win, despite a late-game push.

It all began in the opening inning, with 2B Tom Josten’s Rbi single, an RBI groundout by DH Andrew Sundean, and a three-run home run from 1B Ben McCabe.

In the following inning, CF Gephry Pena adds an RBI double into the mix to get the Knights out to a 6-0 lead after two innings.

Over the next two innings, the Bearcats got to within two runs of the lead thanks to a trio of solo home runs and a wild pitch.

By the 6th, UCF made its response by doubling its run total via a McCabe RBI sacrifice fly, a two-run RBI triple from 3B Michael Brooks, and an RBI double from C Cole Russo. Even Alex Freeland, seeing in-game action for the first time in over a month, got involved thanks to a two-run pinch-hit RBI double.

A pair of three-run homers by the Bearcats in the 8th and 9th innings respectively kept the game from becoming too one-sided. However, UCF three insurance runs in the 8th inning— a solo shot from Brooks, and a two-RBI single from Riley Wash— kept the Knights firmly ahead to take the win.

Starting pitcher Ben Vespi was credited with the win after pitching three innings and allowing three runs on five hits and striking out five batters.

Game 2: Guess who’s back in the lineup?

Alex Freeland made his full return to the starting lineup in Game 2 of the series, and doubleheader.

However, the Bearcats turn the tables on the Knights and jump out an early lead they won’t give up.

It was not until the 5th inning, when they were already down, 6-0, that UCF was able get a run across via a Josten RBI sacrifice fly and McCabe’s 2nd homer of the series.

Both teams contributed two-run home runs in the 6th inning, keeping the Bearcats’ lead at four.

That lead would soon change in the 8th and 9th inning, where the Bearcats almost doubled their run total to 15. UCF’s only run in this late portion of the game came on a pinch-hit solo home run by RF Pablo Ruiz.

While Cameron Crain was credited with the loss after he gave up three runs on three hits and three walks, reliever William Saxton did not help matters by giving up seven runs on five hits and six walks. Both pitchers combined to strike out 10 batters.

Game 3: Close, but no cigar

With rain forecasted for the area later in the day, Game 3 was moved up to Noon on Friday. As opposed to the doubleheader from yesterday, though, the Bearcats’ 6-5 victory was a much closer affair.

The team honored five seniors prior to the game: Wash, Saxton, pitcher David Litchfield, RF Trent Taylor, and SS Noah Orlando.

Orlando then followed this up by hitting his final home run in John Euliano Park, a solo shot over the center field fence.

McCabe hit an RBI single later on in the inning and DH Andrew Brait, making his first start of the season after being out with a left shoulder injury, got an RBI sacrifice fly.

The Bearcats responded by evening the score in the 2nd inning thanks to two RBI singles and a throwing error.

UCF would regain the lead thanks Brooks getting a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch in the 5th inning, but Cincinnati snatched the lead for itself the following inning thanks to a fielding error.

One inning later, McCabe’s third home run of the series tied the game up.

Both teams remained in stalemate until the 9th inning when the Bearcats executed a sacrifice fly that ultimately became the winning run.

In his final regular-season start, Connor Staine pitched two innings, allowing three runs on four hits and two walks and striking out three batters.

He was followed up by Litchfield, who went 3.1 innings in his John Euliano Park swan song. He allowed two runs on three hits and struck out five batters. However, it was ultimately closer Kyle Kramer who was credited with the loss after he gave up the game-winning RBI sacrifice fly. Aside from that, he gave up two hits and struck out three batters.

What’s Next?

Later this week, the team will travel to Clearwater for the American Athletic Conference Tournament.

It’s first game will be against No. 7-seed Memphis, slated for 4 p.m. on Tuesday.

The Knights came back after dropping Game 1 to take the series victory over the Tigers back in early April. The Tigers now have the sixth-highest batting average in the conference, and the second-worst earned run average.

However, Memphis does have the 6th-lowest individual ERA in the conference in pitcher Landon Gartman, who was the starting pitcher in UCF’s lone loss to the Tigers.

Gartman went six innings in that game, allowing only one run on four hits and four walks.

Players of the Series

Ben McCabe

McCabe ended his season at John Euliano Park on a high note by hitting a home run in all three games against Cincinnati.

Alex Freeland and Andrew Brait

Both players returned to action for the first time since injury forced them out for an extended time.

For Freeland, his absence lasted more than a month, but for Brait, it was his first action all season after a left shoulder surgery.

Since both players hit RBIs in their first two games back and for a team that has faced injury woes all season, this is the kind of momentum a team needs from that perspective heading into Clearwater.

Conference Honors

A pair of Knights pitchers were named to the AAC’s All-Conference First Team Monday.

Additionally, C Andrew Sundean and OF Gephry Pena were named to the All-Conference Second team. Though, Pena was listed as a DH.