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Baseball Stays Alive in AAC Tournament with Win over Wichita

Knights will face loser of Memphis and Houston on Friday

Noah Goldberg

The UCF Knights Baseball team thumped Wichita State Wednesday night, 12-4, to stay alive in the American Athletic Conference Tournament.

After an offensive performance on Tuesday against Memphis that was characterized as “terrible” by head coach Greg Lovelady, he said the hitters rebounded against the Shockers (21-36, 9-15 AAC).

“We had way tougher at-bats, especially early in the game, some situational stuff that we just took advantage of, and got good pitches to hit and didn’t miss ‘em, and use the big part of the field, just everything we preach,” Lovelady said.

A quartet of Knights (33-24, 14-10 AAC) batters hit a pair of RBIs each: CF Gephry Pena, DH Noah Orlando, 2B Tom Josten, and RF Trent Taylor.

Both of Josten’s RBIs, along with one each from Orlando and Pena, helped the Knights get out to a five-run lead after the second inning.

“I think, offensively, the guys knew that we needed more out of them, and they came ready to go,” Lovelady said.

While Wichita State shrank its deficit after a two-run third inning, UCF not only restored the five-run lead but made it larger over the next two innings. Taylor contributed to two of these runs. He scored from third base on a suicide squeeze bunt in the fourth inning and hit an RBI double in the fifth.

Taylor went on to lead the team with three hits on the night, all of them extra-base hits, including an RBI triple in the seventh inning. Plus, he also made a highlight defensive play by making a sliding catch in the foul-territory warning track in right field.

“He brings a lot of energy all the time,” Lovelady said. “He’s on the bus before the game, just getting everybody hyped up.”

Connor Staine started the game for UCF on the mound, but it was reliever Ruddy Gomez that got credited with the win. Staine, who has been battling blisters, pitched 2.1 innings and allowed three runs on three hits and four walks.

Lovelady said he was proud of Staine for not making excuses and trying his best but acknowledged that it was hard for the Maryland transfer to stay consistent.

“It’s amazing where he started and you want to see him get into midseason form and really start to make that jump at the next step and just was unable to do that, just through all the things that we’ve been through,” Lovelady said. “It’s like every time he tries to get going, it’s like one step forward, two steps back. So, it’s difficult.”

Gomez, who is now 5-0 for the season, made his longest appearance of the season, 4.2 innings, and allowed just one run on four hits and one walk. The JUCO transfer also got a season-high six strikeouts on the evening.

While Lovelady praised the performances of Staine and William Saxton —who pitched the final two innings and allowed no runs on one hit and struck out three batters—he gave extra emphasis on Gomez.

“Those two guys really did a great job, but Ruddy was awesome,” Lovelady said. “I mean, just came in and pounded the zone.”

Now, with their first tournament victory in hand, the Knights will have their first day off tomorrow to rest and prepare for their next elimination game Friday afternoon against the loser of Memphis and Houston.

“We got to be ready to go, we got to have that energy, that kind of killer instinct,” Lovelady said. “We’ve got to be prepared but bring that fight from the get-go. We can’t let somebody else bring it to us.”