The UCF Knights Baseball team clinches a spot in the American Athletic Conference Tournament semifinals after dispatching Memphis in seven innings, 15-2.
Barring a two-run homer from the Tigers (26-29, 9-15 AAC) in the opening inning, UCF (34-24, 14-10 AAC) kept Memphis off the board. Plus, the Knights also conserved their pitching arms by getting out to an over-10-run lead to invoke the run rule, which kept their pitchers from having to go two more innings.
“We needed to save as many bullets as we possibly could to give us the best chance to play as many innings as we need to play tomorrow,” head coach Greg Lovelady said.
While the Knights may have started the game down, it was not for long. Redshirt senior designated hitter Noah Orlando got the scoring started in the bottom of the first inning with a three-run go-ahead home run, his second of the tournament.
Noah Orlando crushes yet another ball @UCF_Baseball pic.twitter.com/WEG9WrXApA— American Baseball (@American_BSB) May 27, 2022
He was followed up shortly after by redshirt junior first baseman Ben McCabe getting his first hit of the tournament. It came via a two-run shot over the center-field wall that landed on BayCare Ballpark’s concrete concourse. The momentum from that impact carried the ball out of the stadium.
“I wasn’t sure if it was gone off the bat because I hit an identical one on Tuesday and it was the park, but once I saw it going, I knew the wind picked it up and it just went,” McCabe said.
Ben McCabe sent this ball to a different zip code @UCF_Baseball pic.twitter.com/nOkTycNLsT— American Baseball (@American_BSB) May 27, 2022
Both Orlando and McCabe would end their games with four RBIs, though freshman catcher Andrew Sundean and redshirt senior right fielder Trent Taylor also had a pair of RBIs each.
“We’re just trying to put together good at-bats, quality at-bats, and just pass the bat, not worried about success,” McCabe said. “As long as we put together a good at-bat, the results speak for themselves.”
Trent Taylor doing Trent Taylor things pic.twitter.com/JmK1dptfoW— American Baseball (@American_BSB) May 27, 2022
On the mound, redshirt senior David Litchfield took the win in relief. Taking over from redshirt sophomore starter Cameron Crain in the second inning, he pitched four innings and allowed no runs on three hits. This came despite getting no strikeouts.
“I haven’t been perfect by any means, but the defense has been absolutely incredible behind me,” Litchfield said.
The win comes three days after the Knights fell to a Tigers team led by AAC Newcomer Pitcher of the Year Landon Gartman. Memphis head coach Daron Schoenrock, who has now completed his final year with the Tigers as he enters retirement, said the game is played on the pitcher’s mound, and that Gartman’s performance in Game 1 made the difference.
“When [UCF] got the lead and they can kind of play with house money and get runners started and kind of gamble and give some outs with short game stuff, that can be really hard to handle,” Schoenrock said. “That’s kind of what you have to do coming out of the loser’s bracket like they’re gonna have to tomorrow, is find ways to just keep pressuring the opponent to try to push one across, push one across, push one across.”
UCF will have to defeat Houston twice Saturday to advance on to the tournament championship game. Both teams are slated to take the field at 12:30 p.m. While Lovelady’s Knights might have saved on two innings of work Friday, they still have to pitch at least 18 innings on Saturday for a chance at the tournament crown.
“We’re gonna need everybody for the next few days, and if we got to play three games, we’re gonna need everybody,” Lovelady said. “I’m excited to see who steps up and helps us out.”
For post-game thoughts from both team’s head coaches, McCabe, and Litchfield, check out the video below: