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UCF Baseball wins back-and-forth final series

Knights fend off Shockers and Mother Nature to take two-of-three in final regular-season series

Brenna Johnson

The UCF Knights Baseball team did not just have to face the Wichita State Shockers in its final weekend series of the season, but also Mother Nature.

Despite the inclement weather that plagued the weekend, the Knights took two of three against the Shockers for their third consecutive weekend series victory on the heels of their final trip to Clearwater for the American Conference Tournament.

“I just want to make a run in the tournament and stay as long as we can and try to get to a regional,” head coach Greg Lovelady said.

Game 1: It’s Raining Runs

While it took a while to get going, the Knights opened the series with a win after a 16-15 slugfest.

SP Ruddy Gomez only got through one batter Thursday night before the game was suspended for the evening due to weather.

Play resumed at 11 a.m. on Friday, with Jacob Marlowe taking over pitching duties. Both he and Shocker pitcher Payton Tolle got through three innings of scoreless baseball before the offenses took over.

The Knights got the edge first, jumping out to a 7-1 lead in the fourth thanks to multi-RBI hits from DH Andrew Sundean, RF/2B Tom Josten, and 3B Andrew Brait.

Over the next three innings, Wichita State came back to make it 10-8 midway through the seventh. However, the Knights answered by adding five more runs in the bottom of the seventh and eighth to make it a seven-run ballgame.

Despite using three different pitchers in the top of the ninth, the Shockers closed the deficit, culminating in a game-tying grand slam by 3B Jack Little that tied the game 15-15. It is the fourth-most runs UCF has given up in a single game all season.

However, it would end up being the most runs the Knights gave up this season in a win thanks to LF Lex Boedicker scoring on a walk-off error.

Game 2: Forlorn Final Inning

After Game 1 ended at around 3:11 p.m., both teams were slated to start the second game 45 minutes later. However, inclement weather delayed the series once more, leading to an 8 p.m. start time.

“June, July, August weather just came a little early this year,” Lovelady said.

Similar to earlier in the day, the Knights jumped out to an early lead. They made it 5-0 after two innings thanks to a couple of home runs from Sundean and Josten.

UCF SP Cameron Leiter kept the Shockers off the board for the first 1.1 innings before getting pulled off the mound for Dom Stagliano. He did the same for a few innings, but Wichita State not only closed the deficit but took the lead, 6-5, in the sixth.

Fortunes seemed to turn in UCF’s favor again though, as relief pitcher Julian Balzer came in and set a new career high with six strikeouts in 2.2 innings. DH Ben McCabe and 1B Nick Romano had an RBI double and groundout respectively to put the Knights on top again, 7-6, as well.

However, once again, the Shockers offense roared to life in the ninth. Wichita State doubled its score to ultimately win 12-7. In one doubleheader day, UCF gave up 13 runs in the ninth inning.

“Put ourselves in the opportunity to win, but two plays defensively led to five unearned runs,” Lovelady said. “Obviously, we’re running on fumes here a little bit with the arms trying to get ready for next week. It’s tough; we had a chance and we just couldn’t close it out.”

Game 3: Senior Knight Success

After a marathon of a Friday, the Knights bounced back on Saturday evening for a 5-4 victory to mark Senior Knight.

John Euliano Park hosted its fifth-highest attended game of the season as 2,435 spectators were on hand for the final athletic event on UCF’s campus in the American Athletic Conference era.

“Coming off of a game yesterday, a Friday game at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m., the crowd’s not always going to be the biggest, but to have Knight Nation come out today like they did and show their support and be loud and cheer was awesome and a great way to send us seniors off,” McCabe said.

McCabe and Romano, both seniors, had multi-hit performances for the Knights. Both of McCabe’s hits had an RBI, with the second coming in the second inning to bring home Josten, another senior, to put UCF up 4-1.

“Just getting the job done there with two outs, looking for a pitch to hit and I got a pitch and Tom [Josten] scored on it,” McCabe said. “Just the two seniors trying to provide value there.”

However, for the third consecutive game, the Shockers closed the deficit. SP Dominic Castellano gave up four runs on eight hits in 3.2 innings, leaving the game tied midway through the fourth.

Freshman SS Drew Faurot made his mark on the evening in the fourth with his 15th home run of the season. The solo shot not only put Faurot in a tie for eighth on the program’s single-season home run list, but it also set a new program freshman home run record.

“I knew I had to get on base, that was my main goal, and he left a changeup up in the zone and it was a pitch I could do damage with,” Faurot said.

Faurot, who was unanimously selected for the AAC’s Freshman All-Conference Team on Monday alongside Leiter, gave the Knights the edge.

However, it took two relief pitchers to turn it into a victory. Both Nick Vieira and Zach Chappell turned in hitless performances to keep the Shockers off the board in the final 5.1 innings.

Vieira set a new career-high by fanning seven in 3.1 innings, earning him his first win of the season. As for the senior Chappell, he marked his Senior Knight by striking out three batters in two innings to pick up his second career save.

“I definitely had some up and downs this year and just kept working through it and every day is a new day,” Chappell said. “Went out there with a different mindset tonight. I wanted it for us, the seniors, the guys, just everybody around us.”

“Went out, competed, gave us a shot, and we got it done.”

What’s Next?

UCF is now ranked #110 in the RPI Rankings as they travel to Clearwater for its final American Athletic Conference Tournament.

The Knights will enter the tournament as the #4 seed and will face off with #5 seed Cincinnati, who comes in #151 in the RPI Rankings, at 9 a.m. on Tuesday.

UCF took two of three against the Bearcats last week in Ohio.

Player of the Series:

DH/C Andrew Sundean

Sundean hit a home run in the early phases of all three games of the series. Now with 16 homers this season, he is tied for sixth place on the program’s single-season home run list with three other players, one of which is his teammate Lex Boedicker.

Sundean was also named to the AAC’s All-Conference First Team alongside McCabe.

Play of the Series:

CF John Rhys Plumlee guns it to 1B for a double play