Kardiac Knights ride again in Big 12 Tournament

by | May 24, 2024 | 0 comments

Home E Baseball E Kardiac Knights ride again in Big 12 Tournament

Defeat Oklahoma State in extras to advance

They just can’t make it easy on us, can they?

After battling and grinding out a grueling four-plus hour, 11-inning victory on Tuesday night, the Knights once again found themselves deadlocked late in an exhausting battle, this time against the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Due to the game between Texas Tech and Cincinnati going long [Red Raiders eliminated the Bearcats, 10-5 on Thursday – Cincinnati, as it were, eliminated the Texas Longhorns on Wednesday], the Knights and Cowboys had to wait until 10:15 PM [eastern] to start this contest.

Early on, it appeared the Cowboys had the Knights figured out, and handily. After a missed opportunity in the first and a run being prevented by a Lex Boedicker double bouncing over the wall in the right field score, Oklahoma State jumped all over Ben Vespi, taking an immediate lead after just two pitches.

Vespi’s line started with two runs on the board before recording the first out, and even that out scored a third run still. Double, single, walk, double, sacrifice fly, walk, safety squeeze RBI sacrifice bunt – within just the first 18 pitches, the Knights trailed 4-0.

After getting a strikeout to end the frame, the Knights offense went to work. Without the benefit of a hit, or even, a ball put in play, the Knights were able to cut the deficit to 4-2 by way of a hit batter, two walks, and two consecutive extremely wild pitches. A Mikey Kluska bloop RBI double followed shortly thereafter by a Lex Boedicker RBI single brought the game back to the start, tying things up at four runs apiece.

The Knights and Cowboys traded zeroes for the next couple of innings, as Ben Vespi settled down and allowed just one run the rest of his evening (a solo home run in the 5th to Carson Benge – this guy is good, remember that name come Draft season), going five innings when it was thought that we might see his departure shortly after the first inning. Five runs on six hits and four walks, five strikeouts sealed up Vespi’s outing.

One item to note, however. Prior to the Benge home run, which led off the 5th inning, the Cowboys had the bases loaded in the 4th and Benge at the plate. A Ben Vespi offering bounced in the dirt and trickled away just a couple of feet, where Tuesday’s hero Danny Neri gathered the ball and fired it off to third, catching the runner from third being a bit too aggressive and ending the inning.

Of course, it cannot be assumed that all things stay the same, but had the bags been fun when Benge took that home run swing, this ends up a much different story. Instead, a solo homer, not a grand slam.

Najer Victor entered in the sixth, the Knights sitting in the shadow of a one-run deficit [5-4] after a pair of failed opportunities to score in the 4th and 5th. Victor had what may have been his best inning of the season, striking out a pair and getting a lazy fly ball to keep the deficit where it was.

In the top of the seventh, after a Boedicker single (his third his of the evening), Matt Cedarburg took an 0-2 pitch just over the wall in left for his fifth home run of the season, giving the Knights a 6-5 lead. After starting the inning with a groundout to third, Najer’s control seemed to elude him, walking the next two batters, and giving way to Spencer Bauerto try and get out of the jam.

Bauer’s first batter, on just the second pitch he threw, hit one deep to center that caught and held on to the collective breath of Knight Nation. Center fielder Andrew Williamson drifted back a bit and was able to secure the ball just shy of the wall. Both runners advanced to their next respective bases, but Spencer Bauer found himself calm and collected, striking out Colin Brueggemann to end the inning.

Bauer, however, found himself in some trouble in the next frame. After walking the second hitter of the inning on some … let’s say, questionable misses just off the plate, a ringing double off the wall in left field ricocheted hard and away from the Knights outfielders, scoring the tying run and knotting things up at 6.

Kyle Kramer entered the game (this has almost been said more times than UCF has actually played games this year, kudos to Mr. Kramer on his durability) with the go-ahead run on second and managed to strand that runner there with a strikeout and a flyout.

The Knights started the top of the 9th with a Cedarburg single (Anthony Calabro pinch-ran), a sacrifice bunt Neri, and an intentional walk to Williamson. Braden Calise put a fantastic swing on the ball, but as baseball can go, was not rewarded, as he lined out to the center fielder for the second out. A pinch-hit appearance by Andrew Sundean did not bear fruit, and the Knights went to the bottom of the 9th, hoping for extras.

Enter: Dominic Castellano. After throwing 53 pitches in Tuesday’s affair, including entering the game with two on and no outs before striking out the side and going 2 ⅔ scoreless, Castellano said “put me in, coach.” [Unofficial quote, probably wasn’t said, but … just … OK? This is being written at 3 AM, some slack should be cut here. Thank you.]

A harmless bottom of the 9th as Dominic set the heart of the Cowboys order down without issue set the stage for the 10th. Two Big XII tourney games, two extra inning thrillers.

Andrew Brait started things off with a ringing single to center field followed by a Matt Prevesk sacrifice bunt. After a second out was recorded, Lex Boedicker started off his at-bat with two takes on pitches well out of the zone, and the Cowboys decided to put him on intentionally.

With two on and two outs, coach Rich Wallace went to the bench one more time, calling upon AJ Nessler in a crucial spot. The move, this time, was rewarded, as Nessler laced a 1-1 fastball into left-center field for an RBI single to score Brait from second. Nessler was thrown out going for second, but the Knights had the lead, and a lead they would keep.

Castellano decided his 9th inning keeping a game tied against the three best hitters in the Cowboy lineup wasn’t impressive enough. After a first pitch groundout started the frame, Dominic reared back and struck out the next two batters to wrap things up and send the Knights to the Big XII Tournament Semifinals, just shy of the clock ringing in 2 AM eastern.


Given the victory, the Knights get to sleep in once more and play Friday evening. They will face the winner of Texas Tech vs Oklahoma State, to be played with a 5:00* PM scheduled start. The Knights will then start their game at either 8:30* PM or 47 minutes after the previous game, whichever is more inconvenie—err, whichever ends up happening last. This game will be broadcast on ESPN+/BXII NOW once it becomes available to begin.

*Heavily subject to change, as we have found out the hard way.

Since OSU was just previewed in the previous article, let’s have a look at Texas Tech, shall we?

Texas Tech Red Raiders (33-25, 12-17 BXII (reg season), 1-2 vs UCF)


Once again, the Knights extend a big, gigantic thank you to the Red Raiders for defeating Texas and providing the Knights a much-needed day off. If not for that extra day of rest, it’s probable that Dominic Castellano is simply unavailable for this one.

Despite their powerful offense, the Knights were able to keep the Texas Tech bats in check during their series at the end of March. Three one-run contests in the series saw UCF come out on top two games to one, holding TTU to just eight runs in that series.

Since facing the Knights, Texas Tech went 13-15, including a bit of a free-fall in the conference going just 8-10, a stretch that included an eight-game losing streak in Big XII games to end the regular season.

As stated previously, the Red Raiders pulled off an upset of Texas late into the night on Tuesday, winning 6-4 on the strength of a go-ahead two-run homer from infielder Cade McGee off the top of the left field foul pole.

With that blast, McGee took the team lead in home runs with his 15th of the season, and also leads them in runs batted in and has more than half of the offenses’ times being hit by a pitch, with 22 of the teams 42 times plunked.

Outfielder Drew Woodcox (who also hit a homer in that game) and infielder Gavin Kash each sit in the mid-teens in home runs, with 14 and 15 respectively on the season [Kash hit a home run in the Texas Tech loss to OSU on Wednesday], although Woodcox is the one to look out for in this department – he has hit those home runs in 59 less plate appearances than Kash.

Another outfielder, Damian Bravo, leads the team in hitting with a robust .371 average while putting up an OPS of 1.004 on the year. Not known for too much power, Bravo did lead all D1 baseball in doubles with 15 when the Knights played Texas Tech back in March but ended up with just 19 of them to go along with 4 home runs and 2 triples on the year.

Texas Tech is more likely to attempt stolen bases than the Cowboys, but not by too much – only 60 steals and 9 times caught on the season.

Leading the Red Raiders in that category is outfielder Gage Harrelson, who is a perfect 19-0 in his stolen base attempts. Infielder TJ Pompey follows Harrelson with 12 steals but has been caught twice.

Final Notes

Extra-inning games are not good for the heart. That is one thing that has been learned this week. However, with this win and combining with the Tuesday victory, the Knights may have locked up a spot in the Regionals beginning next weekend. UCF has not appeared in a regional since 2017. Oddly enough, that was also the first year of a new head coach for UCF Baseball.

The day off paid immediate dividends, as the Knights remained cool despite a big early deficit and had the option to run out some of their best arms from the bullpen.

The Knights will have to wait and see who their opponent will be for Semifinal Friday, but one thing is for certain – Rich Wallace will have this team ready to go and willing to face the next challenge.

Remember, at this point, the tournament switches to a single elimination format. Every game on Friday and the Championship matchup Saturday are played knowing that it will be one loss and done.

Charge On!

About Michael Theed
Michael is a 2019 UCF Grad (Bachelors, Civil Engineering) who follows the Miami Marlins & Dolphins. You can find him on Twitter @Mptness4 regularly tweeting about UCF Baseball.


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