The Knights prepare for the Big XII tournament

by | May 21, 2024 | 0 comments

Home E Baseball E The Knights prepare for the Big XII tournament

8th seed UCF hopes to make some noise in Dallas

It’s that time of year in the College Baseball world. Conference tournaments around the nation, bidding for spots in regionals and hoping to keep their seasons going on as far into June as they can.

The Knights are among that number, having officially qualified for the Big 12 tournament during their second-to-last conference series against the Texas Longhorns.

The final week of the regular season included a rainout, a double-header, and a ferocious near comeback that had to be fended off. Let’s see how the initial schedule wrapped up for the Knights.

Recap of the Week


Bethune-Cookman (rainout*)


@ Baylor (6-4 W, 2-4 L, 10-8 W)

*What rain though?

The Good

  • Moved Up a Spot!
    • By virtue of winning the series with Baylor and TCU dropping 2 of 3 to West Virginia at home (who, oddly enough, they will open the BXII tourney against), the Knights moved up one spot in the Big XII standings right at the buzzer, now seeded 8th.
    • This is important as this moved the Knights into the 2-seed half of the bracket, filled with teams that UCF has played this year and went 6-6 against overall.
      • Compared to 1-seed bracket, whom UCF went 4-8 against, with one team not faced [TCU].
  • Strong First Year in Conference
    • With the first regular season in the books, the Knights, despite a bunch of departing talent before the year and battling a few injuries and underperformances, ended 14-15 in the conference with six series wins out of the 10 played.
  • Kris Sosnowski’s Emergence
    • Ever since getting heavy opportunities late in games, Kris Sosnowski has stepped up big time for the Knights, racking up five saves in the last three weeks.
  • More Solid Starts
    • Ben Vespi and Dom Stagliano (truncated) provided the Knights with another set of strong starts. Vespi went 6, allowing just 4 hits and 2 (unearned) runs, striking out 7. Stagliano only went 4 as he is scheduled to start Game 1 of the Big XII tournament for the Knights but struck out a pair and allowed just 4 hits and one (unearned) run.
    • Stagliano on the upcoming start: “[Cincinnati is] a very good team, they took two out of three against us at our place, and that’s gotta motivate us a little bit … We’ve got to be better in tighter situations.”

The Bad

  • Infield Defense
    • This series likely would have been a sweep for the Knights if not for the surprising lackluster defense over the weekend. Seven errors on the infield resulted in multiple runs for Baylor.
  • Shaky Ending
    • Despite getting up to a 10-2 lead in Game 3, the Knights had to fend off Baylor’s comeback attempt to win the series.
  • Rainout Avoids Proper Send-Off
    • Many Knights fans were hoping to get one final home game to properly send the boys off, but the rainout unfortunately took that chance away.

The In-Between / Random

  • What To Do?
    • Over the last few games, we’ve seen Matt Cedarburg handle the DH role for UCF for the injured Andrew Sundean. Cedarburg has handled the sudden uptick in playing time well, thus far going 9 for 20 with a homer and 4 RBI in the last five games.
    • If Sundean is well enough to play this week, how will Rich Wallace handle things? Sundean is one of the best hitters on the team, but has struggled since returning from injury, going just 4 for 28 [.143] with one extra-base hit (home run against Houston).
    • “We’re just trying to pick the right spots to use [Sundean] … we tried to give him a break and then Matt Cedarburg’s having a “Matt Cedarburg May”™ … we’re trying to get Sunny back locked in, he looked more like himself today [20th] so hopefully we’ll get a chance to use him here soon.” – Rich Wallace during Zoom Media conversation.
  • Scary Moment
    • In the 8th inning of Game 1, Andrew Brait took a fastball that glanced off the faceguard of his helmet and ended up hitting him in the face. Blood poured from his nose as he was being tended to, but credit him for toughness – he got treated and was good to go for Game 2 later that day.
  • An Out Without a Batter
    • Seldom-used Cameron Crain entered Game 2 on Friday and got an out without technically facing a batter. Baylor attempted to sneak a run with a double steal prior to a pitch, but the Knights stayed calm and were able to get the out between third and home to thwart that attempt.

After Tuesday’s planned game against Bethune-Cookman got canceled due to inclement weather (allegedly), UCF went packing to get back on the road to Waco to face the Baylor Bears. Upon arrival, the team learned that Mother Nature decided to join them on the road trip, pushing Thursday’s opening contest back into a Friday double-header.

“That might have been the hottest double-header I’ve ever experienced … think the sun was in our face for seven hours in that dugout,” Wallace said of Friday’s games.

The first game went according to plan for the Knights. Ben Vespi went six strong innings, then Spencer Bauer and Kris Sosnowski closed things out. The trio combined to strike out 11 and walked just 3, giving up four runs (two earned) during this contest.

Offensively, outfielders Matt Prevesk and Jack Zyska each had two hits and an RBI, infielder Braden Calise drove in a pair (one with a single to center, one with a squeeze bunt), and the other two runs were provided by outfielder Andrew Williamson and first baseman Lex Boedicker.

A harbinger of things to come, however, as the Knights infield committed three throwing errors in the game. The shaky defense carried over into the second game of the day, where all four runs allowed by Knight pitchers were unearned and a direct result of a fielding error in the 4th and a throwing error in the 6th.

DH Matt Cedarburg provided the only offense in this second game, hitting a two-run homer over the left-center field wall in the 7th, cutting the deficit to 2, but the Knights were unable to muster a single baserunner following the longball.

The Knights came out swinging in Game 3, scoring six runs in the first, aided by a pair of Baylor errors in the inning. Mikey Kluska capped off the inning with a three-run double that was about a foot and a half shy of being a grand slam off the wall in left-center.

Wiley Hartley started the game and went 3 ⅓ frames for the Knights, striking out a pair and allowing three runs on three hits and two walks. Dominic Castellano entered in the 4th inning and got the Knights through the 7th, albeit without his best stuff on the day, allowing five hits and three runs himself. To this point, Baylor had clawed a 10-2 deficit down to just 10-6.

Hoping to get Chase Centala back on track, Wallace made the move to bring him in for the 8th inning, but after just three hitters, Wallace had decided that was enough. A pair of hits and two runs allowed as Centala made way for Kris Sosnowski, who, despite a shaky beginning, was able to navigate the final two outs of the 8th with a crucial double play against Baylor’s best hitter, outfielder Wesley Jordan, keeping the game at 10-8.

After a throwing error opened the bottom of the 9th, Sosnowski struck out the next two batters and got the following hitter down 1-2 before a pitch was thrown down the middle to the batter representing the tying run and lifted into deep right field. Knight fans held their collective breath as the ball soared out and landed harmlessly into the glove of Jack Zyska at the warning track, sealing the series win for the Knights.

Despite the series win, the Knights coaching staff must be concerned with the sudden woes of the infield defensively. Something to keep an eye on as the Big XII tournament comes around this week.

The Week Ahead

As, yes, conference tournament time. The culmination of three months’ hard work all comes down to this. Beginning on Tuesday the 21st, the Big XII conference tournament has a double elimination format for the most part, switching to single elimination on Friday and Saturday.

After moving up a spot in the conference standings following the series win against Baylor, the Knights moved into Bracket 2 of the tournament. Given the seeding, let’s see who the Knights drew first.

Cincinnati Bearcats (31-23, 17-13 BXII, 2-1 vs UCF) – 5 PM (ESPN+/Big XII Now)

Wait … really? Cincinnati??

What year is it? … yes, the calendar says 2024. Alright then. A conference tournament opening rematch it shall be!

The Knights and Bearcats opened the conference tournament in 2023 against each other as well, although that was in the American Athletic Conference. The Knights won that one on the strength of an Andrew Brait walk-off home run in the 9th inning, en route to a quick exit (0-2) for Cincinnati, albeit the Knights followed them out the door shortly after (1-2).

These two teams squared off at the end of April, with the Bearcats getting the better of the UCF squad in the three-game series. Since then, the Bearcats have amassed a record of 6-4, including a season finale win over Big XII regular season champions Oklahoma.

The Knights will have to contend with a few solid hitters in Cincinnati’s lineup. Catcher / first baseman Josh Kross leads the Bearcats in many categories, including home runs (19), RBI (65), doubles (13), OPS (1.095), and times being hit by pitch (24). Against the Knights, Kross went 5 for 10 (4 for 5 in game 3) in the three-game series.

Corner infielders Tommy O’Connor and Kerrington Cross will also be threats in this lineup. O’Connor is second on the team in home runs with 12, while Cross has driven in 50 and is slashing .324/.452/.533 on the season while also leading the team in walks with 42.

Cincinnati has attempted to steal many bases on the year, sitting 23rd in the nation with 101 steals and have been caught just 17 times. Outfielder Landyn Vidourek leads the way for them in that category with 16, but Cross and fellow outfielder Josh Hegemann are right behind him with 15 each.

Final Notes

The Knights are in a good position for a regional bid, but of course, nothing is guaranteed. They will hope to start this tournament the same way they did in 2023, with a win over Cincinnati. One win makes it much more likely that the Knights will end up in a regional somewhere, two would almost guarantee it.

D1 Baseball currently has them projected in Georgia’s regional along with Wake Forest and Austin Peay, while Baseball America’s latest projections (May 15th) place the squad in Florida State’s regional along with Alabama and Florida A&M.

With a win Tuesday afternoon, the Knights will be scoreboard watching for the following game between Texas Tech and Texas. If the Red Raiders can pull off a major upset over the Longhorns, that will give the Knights a day off on Wednesday. Should Texas secure that victory, the Knights will play Oklahoma State on Wednesday (830 PM Eastern).

A loss on Tuesday would mean facing the losing team of Texas Tech and Texas on Wednesday afternoon (also 5 PM Eastern). How will this play out? Well … we’ll get there when we get there.

It’s go time. Cheer on your Knights as the Big XII Tournament gets underway!

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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