The loss came despite a late-game comeback that not only got the Knights to within a run of the Tigers but also had the game-tying run on third base with one out in the 9th inning. While UCF head coach Greg Lovelady said he was proud of the team for competing until the end, a lack of offensive production in the middle innings and the inability to the final two batters to bring the game-tying run home were both factors in the team’s loss.
“We had some opportunities to score runs, and we just had too many poor at-bats in moments where we needed to have good at-bats,” Lovelady said after the game.
The team had one of those good at-bats early on in the game when DH Noah Orlando hit a go-ahead two-run home run to give the Knights an early 2-1 lead.
However, the Tigers retook the lead, and then some, thanks to a three-run RBI triple in the 4th inning and a fielding error in the 5th inning that allowed two more runs to score. Though, the Knights did quickly respond the next inning to cut the lead down to by one thanks to an RBI single by CF Gephry Pena.
By that point, UCF’s offense had to contend with Memphis’ AAC Newcomer Pitcher of the Year Pitcher, Landon Gartman. He was the pitcher that gave the Tigers their lone victory over the Knights in the regular season.
This time, he pitched seven innings, allowing three runs on four hits and three walks, and struck out six batters.
“We had a great game plan,” Lovelady said. “I thought some guys got out of that game plan and just had some selfish at-bats.”
Once the Tigers placed Dalton Kendrick on the mound, the Knights offense made its move. First, 3B Michael Brooks hit an RBI single to make it a three-run deficit in the 8th inning.
Kendrick would later go on to walk RF Pablo Ruiz and Orlando in the 9th inning. Both players ultimately scored off of Memphis’ closer Blake Wimberley, thanks to wild pitches and an RBI groundout from Pena.
As for the Knights, their defense found mixed success. While starting pitcher Ben Vespi is credited with the loss, he pitched 3.1 innings, allowing three runs on five hits.
UCF’s first two relievers for the game had short stints, with Chase Centala giving up four runs on three hits and two walk in 0.2 innings and Cameron Crain giving up an RBI single to the only batter he faced. Lovelady said both pitchers did not have “their stuff” Tuesday.
“Stuff” ended up being there for the final two UCF relievers of the game—David Litchfield and Jacob Marlowe—as they kept Memphis scoreless for the final five innings of the game.
“Obviously, in these situations, playoff baseball, you’re not going to let guys wait it out and settle it in and do all that,” Lovelady said. “You got to get to the guy that you feel like is gonna give you a chance, so you just keep throwing guys out there that you feel like ‘stuff’ is there.”
However, despite the improvement in pitching late in the game, it was not enough for the Knights to fully overcome, despite a wild pitch and an RBI groundout.
With this loss, the team now runs the risk of being eliminated from the tournament should it lose again. Its first elimination game will be against Wichita State on Wednesday, slated for 47 minutes after the end of the USF vs. Tulane game that starts at 3 p.m. that same day.
“You just go out and try to survive and advance,” Lovelady said. “You put all your chips in and there’s no saving for the next game. You do everything you possibly can on Wednesday to try to win the game and try to get a day off on Thursday.”