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UCF Baseball Drops Two of Three in War On I-4

Knights suffer first-ever conference series loss to USF at home

Noah Goldberg

The UCF Knights Baseball team opened conference play by losing two of three against the South Florida Bulls at home last weekend.

In the third-most attended series in program history, bore witness to UCF’s 1st weekend series loss to the Bulls in the venue. It was also the team’s 4th 1-2 series loss of the season.

“We’ve just got to get back to the confident club, the confident group of guys,” head coach Greg Lovelady said after Game 3. “I told the guys after the game, it’s the same guys in the dugout that they were a month ago. Let’s not forget who we are, let’s not forget the things that we’re capable of, let’s not forget the talent and the experience, and the success that we’ve had and just build off that.”

Game 1: Battle of the Pitchers

South Florida snapped the Knights’ six-game Friday-night winning streak 2-0 in the first game.

Bulls starter Ethan Brown and closer Riley Skeen combined to hand the Knights their first shutout loss of 2023, striking out 15 of 33 batters, and holding the Knights’ offense to only five hits, tied for the least in a game this year.

Despite taking his first loss of the season, UCF starter Ruddy Gomez allowed only four hits in seven innings. He and reliever Cameron Crain combined to strike out 11 of 36 USF batters.

“I care more about winning the game,” Gomez said. “It’s pretty much what I’m trying to do every day, just win the game, win the pitch, win the inning. So, pretty upset that we didn’t get to win the game.”

Game 2: Nail-Biter

The Knights’ hitting struggles continued into Saturday, falling 3-2.

UCF’s only run-scoring hit was a two-run home run by RF/2B Tom Josten in the 8th inning:

Lovelady said his team needed to put more pressure on the opponent when runners get on base.

“We can’t sit back and try to hit home runs,” Lovelady said. “We got to be able to move guys and find ways to score any run any way we can, whether that’s a bunt or a home run, it doesn’t matter.”

On the mound, starter Jacob Marlowe went six innings, allowing two runs on six hits and striking out three. Both runs came on a two-run shot in the 3rd by Bulls RF Drew Brutcher.

Ben Vespi made his return to the mound after sitting out almost a month with an injury, giving up just one run on one hit and striking out three of the seven batters he faced.

However, that one run came on a bang-bang play at the plate.

With one out in the top of the eighth and USF’s Daniel Cantu at third, Nelson Rivera flied out to John Rhys Plumlee in shallow center field. Plumlee fired a missile to C Ben McCabe, who sweep-tagged Cantu at the plate, but Cantu was called safe. Lovelady said McCabe told him he tagged Cantu, but he did not “pound him on the back.” The umpire’s ruling stood after review, and Cantu’s run ended up being the difference.

“In our league, it doesn’t matter what you do before league play,” Lovelady said. “When you get into these games it’s just who’s going to make the most plays, who’s going to make the most mistakes, and who’s going to be able to get that hit or not get that hit and they were just able to make a couple more plays than we were tonight.”

Game 3: Knights’ Last Stand

The Knights’ lineup came alive in their 12-9 win on Sunday, helping to fend off a sweep.

After a three-run home run from McCabe tied the game at 3-3 in the 3rd, the remaining 6 innings saw the Knights’ offense manufacture their last nine runs. 1B Nick Romano reached base in all five of his at-bats with two hits and three walks.

The Knights took the lead for good in the fifth on a two-run double by 2B Cole Russo, who returned over the weekend from injury.

Lovelady said after the game that UCF’s hitters “panicked a little bit” in the last couple of weeks, but they put pressure on the Bulls on Sunday.

“As the series losses started stacking up, we started pressing a little bit more and just kinda forgot who we are, I think,” Lovelady said. “I think today we got back to a little bit of what we can do, the pressure we can put on people, and when we do that, the kind of offense we can have.”

What’s Next?

The Knights hit the road this week to take on two RPI Top 30 opponents.

On Tuesday at 6 p.m., UCF travels south to face RPI #15 Miami, who is coming off a weekend sweep of #39 Florida State. The Hurricanes are 7th in the nation in home runs.

With Easter taking place this weekend, UCF’s series at #28 East Carolina will go Thursday-Saturday. The Pirates opened up AAC play by dropping two of three to Houston, but they still hold the tenth-lowest team ERA in the nation, thanks to pitchers Josh Grosz and Trey Yesavage, who have the two lowest ERAs in the conference. Yesavage also is second in the nation in strikeouts.

Player of the Series

Closer Kyle Kramer

Kramer did not give up any hits in the two games he appeared and struck out four of the nine batters he faced.

He picked up his seventh save of the season in Sunday’s 12-9 win, the 13th of his career. It puts him alone in 7th place for the most career saves in program history.

“I think I just worked to the corners better today than normal,” Kramer said. “I didn’t feel like I had my best stuff, but I was able to compete. So, I think it just comes down to competing and opening up the zone a little bit.”

Play of the Series

DH Andrew Sundean gives UCF a cushion in Game 3 with 2-RBI double