The end of the regular season is now on the horizon for the UCF Knights baseball team.
After eight games away, going 4-4 with two series victories, the Knights are in the midst of one last home stand before heading to Clearwater for the American Athletic Conference Tournament.
While the offense continues to add its names to the program history books en route to its 7th weekend with a single-weekend batting average of .300 or better, the pitching staff, despite some notable individual performances, had its fourth consecutive weekend with a weekend ERA higher than 6.00.
Friday: Cincy Setback
Final/7.— UCF Baseball (@UCF_Baseball) May 12, 2023
The Knights began the series on the back foot with a Game 1 run-rule loss in seven innings, 13-3.
The Bearcats jumped out to a sizeable lead early thanks to a six-run third inning that propelled them to a 7-1 lead. It was that inning that saw UCF SP Ruddy Gomez exit the game after allowing six runs on five hits in 2.1 innings pitched.
While UCF was able to make it a four-run ballgame in the fifth thanks to RBI doubles from 3B Andrew Brait and C Ben McCabe, a Cincy grand slam in the sixth put the run rule into play.
This is the third time the Knights have lost via the run rule this season.
Saturday: Flipping the Script
The Knights turned the tables on the Bearcats on Saturday, taking them down, 12-4, to even the series.
UCF starting pitcher Cameron Leiter tied his season high with an 11-strikeout game. He also had a no-hitter going until the fifth inning. Though, he still only gave up two hits and two runs in 5.1 innings pitched.
Leiter’s performance was supported by an offensive showing headlined by a trio of batters that hit a pair of home runs each: McCabe, LF Lex Boedicker, and CF John Rhys Plumlee.
McCabe’s home runs bring his total up to 18 on the season, tying him with 2005 Dee Brown for the third-most home runs in a single season in program history.
Boedicker’s home runs also brought him into the single-season Top 10 list as well, as his 15 home runs so far this season tie him with 2005 John-Michael Howell, 1997 Gregg Pacitti, and 2021 Josh Crouch for the eighth-most homers in a single-season in program history.
While the Knights were not able to come back from losing via the run-rule by winning via the run-rule, the series was evened regardless.
Sunday: Comeback in Cincy
UCF had to bounce back within a single game to take the series, recovering from a six-run deficit to win on Sunday, 9-7.
Thanks to a couple of two-run home runs and a 2-RBI double, Cincinnati jumped out to a 6-0 lead after two innings.
Relief pitchers Jacob Marlowe, Najer Victor, and Kyle Kramer kept the Bearcat offense at bay for the final seven innings, combining to strike out 10 batters and allow only one more run on six hits. This gave the UCF offense room to close the gap, which it did by the end of the sixth inning when it tied the game, 6-6, after a bases-loaded 3-RBI double by SS Drew Faurot.
1B Nick Romano also helped in this effort by hitting two solo home runs, increasing his season total to 10. He is now the 7th player to have double-digit home runs this season.
While Cincinnati would briefly regain the lead in the seventh inning on a wild pitch, a go-ahead 2-RBI single from Boedicker gave the Knights their first lead of the game in the ninth inning.
The win shortly after that gave UCF the series, making both weekend series on their eight-game road trip victories.
Tuesday: Century Mark Hit
The Knights returned home for their final home stand of the season Tuesday night with an 11-7 win over Bethune-Cookman.
While the Wildcats got the early jump, getting out to a 1-0 lead after the first inning, UCF took the lead and would hold it for the rest of the game after a two-run home run from 2B Cole Russo. Russo had a career-high five RBIs in the game.
Starting pitcher Ben Vespi was credited as the winning pitcher after tying his season-high with six strikeouts in a five-inning appearance.
Relief pitcher Kris Sosnowski finished the game off for the Knights, only giving up one hit in 2.1 innings pitched. That hit just so happened to be a three-run homer by Bethune-Cookman 2B Brian Perez.
It did not impact the game’s outcome though, as the Knights earned a third consecutive victory going into its final weekend series of the season.
UCF (30-23, 10-11 AAC), up four spots to #116 in the RPI Rankings, will take on #99-ranked Wichita State (29-21, 12-8 AAC) in John Euliano Park to finish out the regular season.
The Knights currently hold the No. 4 seed in the American Athletic Conference Tournament if the season ended today, but a sweep against the Shockers could give them the No. 3 seed.
Wichita State currently leads the conference in team ERA (4.17), which is 19th in the nation, and batting average (.300).
All three games, on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, start at 6 p.m.
Player of the Week
SS Drew Faurot
The true freshman put on back-to-back three RBI performances this week, the first being on Sunday against Cincinnati in which his 3-RBI double tied the game, opening the door for UCF to take the lead and the series against the Bearcats.
Then, on Tuesday, he hit a home run in the eighth inning that served as the team’s 100th team home run of the season and his 14th homer of the season, tying him with 2017 Rylan Thomas for the most by a freshman in program history.