UCF Baseball heads to Regionals

by | May 27, 2024 | 0 comments

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Seeded 3rd in Tallahassee bracket; first up: Alabama

It is official – the Knights are going to a Regional following the first year in the tenure of head coach Rich Wallace. This marks the first playoff appearance for the Knights baseball squad since 2017, which incidentally was also the first year of a new head coach for the Knights. UCF was listed as a “last four in” squad, shocking a few members of the team.

“A little bit, yes, I think who we had to play and where we had to play them, the way the schedule was built with the non-conference weekends that we had … won 6 out of 10 Big XII series, 16 Big XII games, get to the semifinal of the tournament … only lost 3 (non-conference games), that felt like it [was good enough],” Wallace replied when asked if he was surprised about UCF’s “Last Four In” status.

Monday’s selection show on ESPN provided the 64 teams that are split into the 16 four-team double-elimination brackets, all starting on Friday. For the sixth time out of a total of 13 regional appearances in school history, UCF will take part in the Tallahassee regional, grouped together with the Florida State Seminoles (ACC), Alabama Crimson Tide (SEC), and Stetson Mad Hatters (ASUN).

The Knights will open against Alabama on Friday at 6 PM on ESPN+. A win means playing the winner of Florida State and Stetson on Saturday at 5 PM, while a loss would slot the Knights against the loser of that game at noon on Saturday.

“Just play Knights baseball, just trust our pitching, trust our defense, put together some gritty at-bats, that’s our thing so just trust in that,” said senior third/second baseman Andrew Brait. When asked about the two extra-inning wins in the Big XII tournament, Brait added, “we’re just proving we’re among that caliber of team, proving that we’re going to grit through some games … we’ve got some tough guys in our locker room and it shows in those games.”

For now, let’s look at the three teams with whom the Knights are sharing a bracket.

Alabama Crimson Tide (33-22, 13-17 SEC)

Conference Tournament Result: Southeastern Conference One-And-Done

“Everything steps up a level when you get to this type of competition, everyone got there because they’ve earned it, so you have to be locked in from pitch one to the last pitch of the game and every facet of your game has to be at its best, and we are certainly capable of doing that,” stated Knights catcher Danny Neri.

A regional rematch from 13 years ago when the Crimson Tide beat the Knights twice in the 2011 Tallahassee regional.

Alabama will be looking to bounce back after losing their one and only game in the SEC tournament on Tuesday following a series loss to Auburn to end the regular season. Following a scorching start to the year where they went 23-7 (including an 11-0 beginning), the Tide has been mired in a bit of a slump since the calendar switched over to April, going just 10-15 after those first 30 games.

Their squad did win some series against hosting teams, including the one seed Tennessee and five seed Arkansas, showing that they do have a dangerous team that can compete with anyone.

As a team, Alabama is not inclined to steal bases often, and with a team batting average of .305 (32nd in D1 Baseball), who can blame them? That said, when they do steal, they’re almost always safe, going 29 of 31 on the year in steal attempts.


Alabama’s clear-cut greatest threat with the bat is third baseman Gage Miller, who leads the team in the entire slash line (.381/.475/.714), home runs (18), RBI (56), and runs scored (70). Miller is third on the team in walks and is one of two starters who have more walks than strikeouts in their lineup.

Center fielder TJ McCants is another talented player on this squad, slotting second on the team in home runs with 14 and leading the team in doubles (16) and stolen bases (14 of 15). McCants does, however, seem to have a weakness at the plate that the Knights could try to exploit, as McCants has struck out 63 times to just 21 walks on the season.

Infielders Justin Lebron (shortstop) and Will Hodo (first base) are two other Tide members to work carefully around, with both smashing 11 home runs on the season. Lebron is a better candidate to get the bat on the ball with a .332 average while Hodo is more inclined to be satisfied with a walk, leading the team with 33 on the year.

Outfielder Ian Petrutz and catcher Mac Guscette rank highly on the Crimson Tide in their abilities to get hits, hitting .325 and .333 respectively with OBPs north of .430, numbers which are helped by the fact that these two lead the team in times being hit by pitch (18 and 19 times).


Alabama has a trio of pitchers who made double-digit starts on the year.

Of those three, Ben Hess is arguably the most difficult to face. In his 61 ⅔ innings, Hess leads the Crimson Tide starters in strikeouts (98, second-best has 62) and batting average against (.237). He may have an element of being “effectively wild,” as he does also lead the team in walks (32) and hit batters (11), which leads to a higher-than-expected ERA of 5.98.

Greg Farone leads the Tide in starters (15), innings (67 ⅔, including a complete game shutout), and has the lowest ERA of the three starters that will be mentioned here sitting at 4.52. Farone has 62 strikeouts compared to 21 walks and got the start in Alabama’s lone game in the SEC tournament, going just 2 ⅓ innings giving up five hits against the South Carolina Gamecocks.

The third starter Zane Adams provided some solid starts, overall posting a 5.37 ERA with 47 strikeouts to 27 walks over 58 ⅔ innings.

Out of the bullpen, it is likely that Braylon Myers will emerge later in games with a lead. Myers has the best ERA on the team with at least 10 appearances at 2.56 over 31 ⅔ innings, striking out 27 in the process while walking just 8. Batters are hitting .205 against Myers, the second-best mark on the team with the 10-appearance threshold.

Alton Davis II is another reliever to keep an eye on, as he leads the team in saves with 4 and has pitched 32 innings over his 20 appearances. Davis has 37 strikeouts in that span but has also walked 16 and hit 8 batters, showing a bit of wildness on the mound.

Florida State Seminoles (42-15, 17-12 ACC)

Conference Tournament Result: Atlantic Coast Conference Runner-Up

“(Wallace) played for UCF, so he knows how important it is for us … you have his passion and history of being here, he just wants to win.” – Pitcher Kyle Kramer.

A major one-year improvement for the Seminoles took place between 2023 and 2024. After posting their first losing season ever in 2023 (let’s pause here – can we take a moment to appreciate how ridiculous that statistic is? Their first season was in 1948), head coach Link Jarrett went to the portal which made for a remarkably quick rebuild, increasing their win total by 19 in just one year.

The Seminoles had an incredible run to start the year, posting a 19-0 record before dropping their first game, and eventually being swept, to Clemson in late March. This resulted in the team going 23-15 the rest of the way.

Offensively, Florida State has a fantastic mix of power, speed, and pure hitting ability. Their team average of .316 ranked 10th in Division 1 Baseball, 107 home runs slots them 19th, and opponents cannot fall asleep when they’ve got runners on base, as they’ve swiped 61 bases in 70 attempts, placing them somewhere in the middle of the pack in the nation.


As expected with a team that hit 107 homers, there is no true weak spot in this lineup.

The first player to highlight is right fielder James Tibbs III, who leads the Seminoles in home runs (25) and RBI (84, 4thin the nation as of the time of writing). Tibbs is not just a power threat – he can hit with the best of them. His .377 average and 1.305 OPS slot him 64th and 12th in the nation, respectively. Tibbs has also walked almost twice as many times as he has struck out, posting a 45:26 BB:K ratio for the year.

Perhaps the most terrifying thing about this lineup is the fact that, even with a .377 average, Tibbs does not lead the team in that category. That goes to third baseman Cam Smith (18th in the nation in average), who has a slash line of .397/.487/.671 on the year with 14 home runs and 50 runs batted in. He also leads the Seminoles with 74 runs scored and 20 doubles, stats that are certainly helped with Tibbs batting behind him.

Left fielder Jaime Ferrer and designated hitter Marco Dinges put up great power numbers as well, hitting 17 and 13 home runs respectively. Both have slugging percentages north of .580 on the season while batting over .300 on the year.

First baseman Daniel Cantu [usf transfer] and center fielder Max Williams [Alabama transfer] are two more Seminoles who have thus far posted an OPS over .900 on the season, showing how dangerous this FSU lineup is from top to bottom.

As mentioned in the prior segment, Florida State is efficient with their base-stealing, namely from outfielder Jordan Williams and second baseman Drew Faurot, one of two names Knights fans will recognize in this article as Faurot transferred from UCF to FSU in the summer of 2023. Williams and Faurot have combined for 25 of the 61 steals by the Seminoles and have been caught just once.


The Seminoles can not just crush the ball, but they can throw it by you, too.

FSU lefty ace Jamie Arnold supplied the squad with 15 starts on the year, tallying 88 ⅓ innings while striking out a far-and-away team leading 134 batters and walking just 20. Arnold has put up a 2.45 ERA for the season, including a 3.32 mark in conference play against a strong Atlantic Coast Conference. Batters hit just .218 against Arnold, slugging just .318 against the lefty star in his incredible sophomore campaign.

While he may not be starting this weekend, per the broadcast in the ACC tournament, the Seminoles may look to Cam Leiter out of the bullpen, provided he is healthy enough to pitch. Leiter, another transfer from UCF, posted a 4.63 ERA during his seven starts, but struck out 56 in just 35 innings. He is second to Arnold in K% [36.5 for Arnold, 35.2 for Leiter], but does lead in K/9 [14.4 to 13.6].

Other potential starters for Florida State include Andrew Armstrong (6.98 ERA, 38 ⅔ innings, 32 strikeouts), Conner Whittaker (5.13, 47 ⅓, 39), and Carson Dorsey (5.53, 55 ⅓, 68). Each of the three listed here have made eight starts on the year and none have been able to consistently keep batters on their toes, with Whittaker having the lowest batting average against at .272.

Late in games, Brennen Oxford and Connor Hults have gotten much of the work, combining for nine saves and 73 ⅓ innings over their 48 appearances together. Oxford has an ERA of 3.04 and Hults sits at 4.15, which Oxford showing better strikeout numbers (59 in 47 ⅓ [11.0 K/9] compared to 31 in 26 for Hults [10.7]).

Stetson Mad Hatters (40-20, 20-10 ASUN, 1-1 vs UCF)

Conference Tournament Result: Atlantic Sun Conference Champions

“You’re playing postseason baseball, so the games are going to mean a lot more.” – outfielder Jack Zyska. “Two really gutsy wins from us (in the Big XII tournament) … we had a really good shot at it.”

Someone the Knights have played this season! A big congratulations to the Hatters for winning their conference tournament. They will face Florida State to start off this bracket.

The Knights and Hatters split their two games this year, each team taking the win at home with neither win being necessarily one-sided [7-1 UCF, 5-3 Stetson].

The Hatters made their way into a regional and a conference championship with a solid enough mix of hitting and pitching, sitting 88th in the nation (top 3rd) in average and 45th in the nation (top 6th) in ERA.


The Hatter Batters™ are led offensively by a mix of players. Leading in average with .352 is center fielder Kyle Jones, second baseman Yohann Dessureault leads in home runs with 11, shortstop Lorenzo Meola paces the group with 58 RBI, and left fielder Logan Hughes tops their charts with a .936 OPS.

While the numbers may not pop off the page, hitters such as Daniel Labrador and Brandon Hylton cannot be overlooked. Hylton especially has some ridiculous power, given his 6’7 and 255 pound frame, and if he gets a mistake to hit, it’s unlikely the ballpark is going to hold it.

One of the ways Stetson can and has beat teams this year is on the bases. 96 steals in 118 attempts on the year [36th in the nation] helped the Hatters scoring 431 runs on the year, placing them 62nd in D1 Baseball – a solid ranking.

The Hatters are also willing to be patient, walking 12% of the time on the year while striking out just 16.4% of the time as a team. The 12% walk rate puts them between Duke and Kentucky this year, two other highly regarded regional teams.


With a team ERA of 4.85, Stetson should be sitting well to at least be competitive in this regional. Only two pitchers reached double-digit starts this year, those being Daniel Paret and Anthony DeFabbia.

DeFabbia leads the Hatters in innings pitched with 65, helped by having the teams only complete game in 2024, with his ERA is right in line with the teams at 4.85. The downside here, however, appears to be his inability to miss bats or keep his control in check. With just 50 strikeouts in those 65 innings, control is necessary, and with 31 walks and 6 hit batters, along with 74 hits allowed, it does not appear to be there too often.

Paret has made 14 starts tallying 63 ⅓ innings. Like DeFabbia, control and inability to miss bats may haunt him at times. 63 strikeouts compared to 33 walks and 7 hit batters may not bode too well in this bracket with the offenses that they will face.

The Hatters have one other pitcher to top 60 innings on the year, that being Aric McAtee, who leads the team in strikeouts with 70 and has a bit more control over his stuff, walking 23 in 62 ⅓ innings.

From the bullpen, Cole Stallings leads the way with 11 saves over 25 appearances, covering 37 ⅓ innings. Stallings has struck out 37 in that time and allowed just a .206 average against.

Arguably the best pitcher on their team, Zane Coppersmith has posted a 1.55 ERA over 23 appearances and 29 innings. Coppersmith has allowed just a .131 average against while striking out 33. However, another specter of control issues looms here, with 18 walks and 6 hit batters on the season.

Final Notes

The Knights have multiple players who have been with the squad for many years and had not been on a squad that made a regional until now.

“Kramer, Brait, [Ben] Vespi, some other players in that room that have given everything they could to this program for so long, and [we] just wanted them to have the opportunity to experience not only postseason baseball but NCAA tournament baseball at the highest level and it means a lot to me and the program that they don’t leave this place without playing in the tournament,” Wallace mentioned after the regionals announcement.

As mentioned at the outset, the Knights are heading to their first regional since 2017 and will look to become the first squad in UCF history to advance to a Super Regional.

Be ready to cheer on the Knights as they make the trek once again to Tallahassee and look to finally exercise their Regional demons.

“We’re just here to win.” – Dom Stagliano

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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