The UCF Knights Baseball team kicked off the 2023 season with an Opening Weekend sweep of Siena and a massive show of support from one of its alumni.
In the early stages of the team’s Opening Knight matchup on Friday night, UCF Athletics announced that an anonymous former Knights Baseball player and his family pledged the largest single donation in program history at over $5 million.
$4 million of that donation will be going to the UCF baseball program, which head coach Greg Lovelady said was “game-changing stuff.” He also said he would like to see the money go toward an upgraded locker room for the players.
As for on-the-field matters, the Knights outscored the Saints on the whole weekend, 35-7. While a couple of returning faces returned to the spotlight, it was a crop of newcomers that filled up a lot of the team’s highlight reel.
Game 1: Power-hitting Parade
With the help of some favorable wind, the 2,254 attendees of Opening Knight were treated with baseballs flying out of John Euliano Park seven times as the Knights thumped Siena, 22-5.
With those seven homers, the team tied a program record for the most team home runs in a single game. It is the 4th time the Knights have done this, with the last being against Memphis in May 2021.
Two of those home runs belonged to 1B Nick Romano, who was making his grand return to the team after being out with a torn ACL since March 8, 2022.
True freshman Drew Faurot, who got the start at shortstop, and Brady Shannon, who came into the game as a pinch hitter and later played in left field, picked up a homer a piece as well.
However, it was C Ben McCabe who led the way in dingers that night, one-upping Romano with three home runs. He ended up finishing up by going 5-5 at the plate and leading the team with five RBIs as well.
On the mound, Ruddy Gomez got the start. While he was credited with the win for his 5.2 innings of action, he allowed 6 hits and 4 runs. He also struck out 7 of the 24 batters he faced.
Game 2: True Freshman Magic
The Knights’ bats did not have as much luck on Saturday in Game 2 as they did on Friday, as they had to squeak out a 2-1 win.
Of the seven hits the Knights got, four of them came from one player: Shannon.
Making his first collegiate start, and playing right field, Shannon was the only batter the Saints’ pitchers could not crack. He went 4-4 from the plate and got the team’s only two RBIs of the night, including a walk-off home run hit into the wind over the right-center field fence.
With the Knights’ bats having an off game, it fell to a true freshman pitcher making his collegiate debut to hold off Siena’s offense. Starting pitcher Cameron Leiter may have allowed 4 walks, 1 hit, and 1 run in his first outing, but he also struck out 7 of the 17 batters he faced in 4.1 innings of action.
He was followed up on the mound by relievers Chase Centala and Kyle Kramer, the latter of which was credited with the win. Both combined for 4.2 innings of work, gave up 4 hits and 2 walks, and struck out eight of 20 batters faced.
Game 3: Siena Sent Home Early
The UCF offense rebounded on Sunday in Game 3, helping get the Knights ahead to the point that the 10-run rule was invoked after seven innings, ending the game with an 11-1 Knights win to complete the sweep.
While 2B Tom Josten and LF Lex Boedicker added to the Knights’ home run total on the weekend with one a piece in the 4th inning, the team did not have to rely on the long ball for a majority of its runs.
McCabe, Romano, and 1B Cole Russo each picked up 1 RBI a piece. Meanwhile, CF John Rhys Plumlee, who saw his first action with the Knights on the diamond this weekend after being ineligible to play in 2022, and C Keano Suarez each got two RBIs to their names for the game.
Suarez’s second RBI hit, a double in the 7th inning, ended up being a walk-off hit since it scored the team’s 11th run, putting it up by 10 runs and invoking the 10-run mercy rule.
The hit put a cap on a weekend that saw Suarez, a junior, get his first action on the varsity team after walking on from the UCF Club Baseball team over the offseason.
On the mound, another newcomer made his UCF debut in Stetson transfer Dom Stagliano. The sophomore picked up the win thanks to his five innings of work. He allowed three hits, 1 walk, and no runs.
He also struck out seven of the 19 batters he faced.
Player of the Series
OF Brady Shannon
Powerade shower for the freshman pic.twitter.com/cmwPsz8Vst— UCF Baseball (@UCF_Baseball) February 19, 2023
With each game in the series, Brady Shannon produced a new highlight. While Game 2 was the crown jewel, thanks to going 4-4 and hitting a walk-off home run into the wind, he had his moments in Games 1 and 3.
During Game 1, he hit his 1st collegiate home run in his second at-bat.
During Game 3, he made a diving grab out in left field to send the game into the 7th inning stretch.
Play of the Series
OF Brady Shannon hits a walk-off home run into the wind to win Game 2
The Knights host one more game on Tuesday, a 6 p.m. tilt with Florida Atlantic Owls, before hitting the road for the first time in 2023 to take on the Clemson Tigers next weekend, with Game 1 on Friday at 4 p.m., Game 2 on Saturday at 2 p.m., and Game 3 at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
The Owls picked up a sweep of their own to open their season against Monmouth and have the C-USA’s Preseason Player of the Year in OF Noah Schanuel. He hit for the 4th-highest batting average in the conference last season with a .369.
As for Clemson, it comes off a season-opening sweep of Binghamton. The Tigers have one player that Perfect Game has named to its Preseason All-American 3rd Team in junior C Cooper Ingle. Ingle turned in the 18th-highest batting average in the ACC last season with a .351.