UCF Baseball claw past Cincy in opening round

by | May 23, 2024 | 0 comments

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Danny Neri plays hero as Knights advance in tournament

Revenge against the Binturong!

Remember, a few weeks ago, in that article with the Cincinnati series recap, when we all found out together that a Bearcat is known as a “binturong,” native to South and Southeast Asia? Gotta love Wikipedia. Also, must wonder why they’re in Cincinnati [and in Huntsville, Texas – shoutout to Sam Houston University, home of the Bearkats]. Anyhow, on to the game. The first Big XII tournament game for the Knights, played at Globe Life Field™ in Arlington, Texas.

When asked how it felt playing in a big league park, coach Rich Wallace mentioned, “It’s tough for it not to feel a little different with this park and the way it is, this place is elite.”

The Knights found themselves locked in a thrilling game against the Cincinnati Bearcats to begin the Big XII Tournament for this pair of teams. Everything started off going UCF’s way, scoring a single run in each of the first three innings.

A sacrifice fly in the first from Lex Boedicker, a scorching line drive into the right field seats by Danny Neri for his 5thhomer of the season (more from him later … a lot more), and a Jack Zyska RBI single in the third had the Knights sitting comfortably with a 3-0 lead as starter Dom Stagliano was cruising, not allowing a hit until the 4th inning.

Cincinnati grabbed a run in that 4th inning, as they had back-to-back two-out hits resulting in a runner crossing the plate. With a 2-2 count, Stagliano left a ball up in the zone to allow his first hit, a single to left, before Cincinnati’s DH Christian Mitchelle smashed a ball just out of the reach of left fielder Matt Prevesk that brought the runner around.

Momentum was about to turn in the fifth, as Stagliano allowed a double and gave up a four-pitch walk to begin the inning. Rich Wallace at that point decided to make a quick move to the bullpen, calling on Dominic Castellano, as is the usual. Despite a wild pitch moving runners to second and third, Castellano was undaunted, striking out the first three hitters he faced to keep the score at 3-1.

After being set down quickly in the 6th, the Knights looked to be on track to do so again in the 7th, when, with two outs and a 2-2 count, Jack Zyska lined a ball off the wall in right-center field resulting in a triple. The very next pitch, Danny Neri deposited his second homer of the game into the bullpen in about the same direction as Zyska’s triple, the first multi-homer game of Neri’s college career.

The bottom of the 7th saw Castellano suddenly have his control vanish on him. With the bases loaded and two outs, the Bearcats had catcher and Big XII home run and RBI leader Josh Kross step to the plate as the potential tying run. Wallace brought in Kris Sosnowski for this tough inheritance of a situation, and Sosnowski did not waver, striking out Kross on three pitches to end the inning.

The 8th inning caused the game to get a little tighter, as a two-out RBI double by second baseman Max Palmieri that just got out of reach of a diving Jack Zyska made it 5-2. In the 9th, things started off calm, with Sosnowski getting a routine flyout to center.

“Felt like things were in control of the game, up until the last ground ball in the 9th,” Wallace said about the flow of the game.

A walk and a single to right that went against a slight shift made it 1st and 3rd, with Josh Kross coming up again. Sosnowski bared down and came away on the better side of things against Kross yet again with a called strike three. However, after a lengthy plate appearance from center fielder Hunter Jessee resulted in a walk and loading the bases, Wallace went to Spencer Bauer to try and finish off the final out.

Bauer started Mitchelle 0-2 but left a ball up and allowed a sharply-hit single into left to make it a two-run game. It seemed that the Knights were out of the woods, as the next batter Josh Hegemann rolled a routine grounder to short. However … indecision loomed its ugly head.

Looking for a quick flip to second where nobody covered, followed by an attempt to beat the runner to the bag, and a late decision to throw to first resulted not only in the runner from third scoring, but also the runner from second to come around to tie the game. One strike away twice, suddenly the Knights were the ones hanging on. A sharp groundout to third baseman Braden Calise ended the inning, as Calise picked a short-hop and took the ball to third to end the frame.

After the Knights loaded the bases with one out and were unable to score and Bauer kept the Bearcats off the board in the bottom half, the 10th inning went by without any scoring. With two outs, and a full count in the top of the 11th, Danny Neri did something no player had ever done in a Big XII Conference Tournament game – he went ahead and hit a third homer on the night, sneaking one over the wall in the right field corner.

“If you had told me at the beginning of the year, that I was going to hold any kind of home run record, I would not have believed you,” Neri said following his three-homer performance. “I feel incredibly fortunate to have been in the right positions, gotten the right pitches, and been able to put the swing on those balls to give us a chance to win a game like that.”

Kyle Kramer entered the game in the bottom half, and after allowing a leadoff single, Kramer settled in, struck out Kross once more, got a lineout to left, and, perhaps most fittingly, threw a pitch that was bunted just in front of home plate, picked up by Danny Neri, and thrown to first for the final out of the game.

“After that first hit, I just had to slow the game down, get a double play ball, anything just to keep it moving … took a couple deep breaths, said ‘been here before,’ and got on with it,” stated Kramer when asked about his thought process in the 11th.

The win guarantees that the Knights are at least playing a game as late as Thursday and pushes them a little closer to a regional bid. Given the length of the game, the Knights had to use more pitchers than they would have liked.

The Knights will turn to Ben Vespi to start game two of their tournament run.

Up Next

Thankfully, due to the upset of Texas Tech over Texas on Tuesday night following the Knights victory, UCF gets a day off!

The next opponent for the Knights will be … (Thursday, 8:30 PM*, ESPNU/ESPN+/BXII Now)

*Start time subject to change based on prior games

Oklahoma State Cowboys (36-16, 19-9 BXII, 1-2 vs UCF)

“Bring on the Cowboys, warm up the bus!” – Kansas State fans towards the end of the football game against UCF in the fall. How rude of them … but, “yeah, here we go.” – Dakota Prescott, another famous Cowboy who plays in Arlington.

The Oklahoma State Cowboys, winning their game against those very same Texas Tech Red Raiders that we just thanked in a game played late into the night on Wednesday, will be the next step for the Knights in their journey to a Big XII Tournament title. Let’s take a look at the Cowboys, shall we?

After starting the year off slowly with a 12-8 record at the end of the series with UCF, the Cowboys rattled off an impressive 24-8 record (18-7 BXII) enroute to the number two spot in the conference. With that seeding, Oklahoma State was granted a bye for the first round of the conference tournament and took Tuesday off.

With the bats, the Cowboys are led by their outfield trio of Nolan SchubartCarson Benge, and Zach Ehrhard, each slashing better than .325/.446/581 with Benge slugging over .660 and Schubart just a hair under .800 on the year. Schubart leads the Cowboys in homers with 17, Benge in RBI with 57, and Ehrhard in runs scored with 64.

Benge also started their game on the mound against Texas Tech on Wednesday night and went 6 ⅓ scoreless before allowing a two-run homer after an error. Benge struck out 10 in the performance and the Cowboys used just three pitchers in the outing.

Not to be overlooked, first baseman Colin Brueggemann has some easy power thanks in part to his size (6’6, 231), hitting 14 homers on the year and driving in 46. He does, however, strike out often, totaling 71 on the year in 219 plate appearances, good for a 32.4% K-rate.

Oklahoma State does not run too often, totaling just 46 steals for the season, and being caught 12 times. Infielder Lane Forsythe leads the squad with 12 (caught only once), and a handful of other Cowboys sit between 4 and 9 steals on the season.

In the three-game series in mid-March, the Knights were able to hold this powerful Cowboys lineup in check for the first two games, allowing just five runs before they erupted in Game 3 with 16 tallies.

Final Notes

It cannot be overstated how large it is that Texas Tech beat the Longhorns on Tuesday night. Their win gave the Knights a day off, which was especially needed after the four-hour-and-change 11-inning affair with the Bearcats on Tuesday night.

This day off will allow the Knights a chance to get a more rested bullpen, and potentially be able to use some of the pitchers that toed the rubber in Tuesday’s lengthy win. Effectively, the Knights went from potentially four available relievers to nearly the entire bullpen thanks to the Cade McGee home run.

The Knights will be playing for a spot in the Big XII Semifinals to be played on Friday, at which time the tournament switches to a single-elimination format.

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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