UCF Baseball Knights tame the K-State Wildcats

by | Apr 10, 2024 | 0 comments

Home E Baseball E UCF Baseball Knights tame the K-State Wildcats

UCF looks to build on their national ranking

Entering the week a newly minted ranked squad, the UCF Knights entered week 8 of the season in high spirits with momentum rolling strong. A big weekend test was ahead of them, facing a team who had just fallen off the rankings and was eager to claw their way back in.

While the schedule showed the first five-game week of the year for UCF, Mother Nature kicked in with an assist to knock out the Wednesday game, providing the Knights a bit more rest prior to facing off against the KSU Wildcats. As it is, Mother Nature owed the Knights one after that sodden opening weekend.

That rest proved helpful, allowing the Knights to employ their best arms out of the bullpen for the three weekend conference games. A fourth consecutive weekend with a conference series win, and the Knights have moved up in all ranking publications, ranging from 16th to 19th across five ranking systems.

Recap of the Week

Midweek

Bethune-Cookman (14-1 W, Tuesday 4/2)

North Florida (rainout 🌧, Wednesday 4/3)

Weekend

Kansas State (7-4 W, 3-4 L, 6-1 W)

The Good

  • Different Days, Different Heroes
    • While the offense of late has left quite a bit to be desired, namely in leaving runners on base (and especially when the bases are loaded with less than two outs), the Knights have found ways to win as various members of the team have stepped up to play Hero of the Day.
      • Even in a losing effort, the ability to keep the game close and giving the squad a chance is huge – for that, Spencer Bauer and Kris Sosnowski get a nod here for Saturday.
  • Pitching – especially the Bullpen
    • Another weekend goes by, another fantastic bullpen performance from the Knights. The UCF Arm Barn had to cover 17 innings over the weekend and did so in a fantastic manner, combining to allow two runs [and two inherited runners] to score in that span. One pitcher in particular shall receive his flowers in the next portion.
  • Small Ball Reigns Supreme!
    • The 5th inning of the third game marked one of the most manufactured innings the Knights have put together this year.
      • With a 2-1 advantage, catcher Dylan King started the frame with a walk, followed by a gorgeous Mikey Kluska bunt that nestled between three fielders, which was then somehow topped with an even better bunt by Matt Prevesk.
      • The next two hitters (Braden Calise and Lex Boedicker) brought in runs by simply putting the ball in play. Two ground balls to second base pushed the advantage up to 4-1, and a Danny Neri RBI single moments later made it 5-1.

The Bad

  • Injury Bug Again
    • Wiley Hartley had to leave Sunday’s start after just one inning due to an oblique injury. The broadcast crew noted the velocity on his pitches were down by nearly 10 mph, so something to monitor as we go forward.
    • Still no official word on the return of Andrew Sundean, but the team remains hopeful that his bat will be slotted back into the lineup sooner rather than later.
    • Pitcher Alex Galvan has been out since the first game of the Oklahoma series. He is still shelved as of now and is working his way back up to rejoin the team. The Knights will be happy having another reliable bullpen option come tournament time.
  • Defense a little Wild
    • Two errors on Friday led to two of the Wildcat runs, while another on Sunday assisted in providing KSU with their lone run in that contest.

The Random

  • Pitching Note
    • Entering week 9, there has not been an inning thrown by a Knights pitcher where they faced only three hitters and struck out all three hitters. The team does have a few three-strikeout innings, and even a four-strikeout frame, but not all consecutively and without traffic.
  • Lay It Down
    • The Knights lead the Big 12 in successful sacrifice bunts inside of conference games with 9.

After taking care of business during the midweek game against Bethune-Cookman Wildcats, the Knights set sights on the other Wildcats on the schedule for the week. Kansas State had just dropped out of the top 25 rankings and still sat towards the top of the Big XII standings as they made their way to The John™.

The first game of the series was all about first baseman Lex Boedicker, who accounted for all seven runs the Knights scored (and one of the KSU runs, but we’ll let that slide). A go-ahead two-run double in the third, a go-ahead two-run home run (2nd of the year) in the sixth, and another two-run double in the eighth to provide big insurance runs for the Knight bullpen.

The seventh and final run, however, Lex achieved with his legs. After his double in the 8th inning, Lex stood on second as the Kansas State pitcher threw one in the dirt and ricocheted away from the catcher who was unable to find it. As Lex sprinted towards third, the catcher had yet to find the ball, and Lex decided to take the risk and was able to get in to score, just beating a throw to the plate.

“I don’t know if Lopes (coach Norberto Lopez) was sending me or not, but I made the decision to go and it paid off,” Boedicker mentioned after the game.

The Knight bullpen, as mentioned above, was critical in this game ending in a Knight victory. Kyle Kramer and Chase Centala combined for five innings of one-run ball after Ben Vespi was able to give the team four innings in his start.

“It’s a luxury … It’s pretty easy when you have [Kyle] Kramer and [Chase] Centala,” head coach Rich Wallace stated Friday night. “You just try to give them opportunities to be successful and they’ve rewarded this team.”

Sunday’s game began with a scare as Wiley Hartley had to leave the game after a lone inning due to injury. However, the game was saved early on by Dominic Castellano, who started the second frame and went on to go until 2 outs in the seventh, racking up a career-high eight strikeouts while allowing just two hits and two walks.

Kyle Kramer was able to knock out the final seven outs in order after throwing two scoreless innings in Friday’s victory.

The Week Ahead

Big XII Baseball – yet another great test coming up for the Knights with four road games. The Wednesday midweek contest with the Stetson Mad Hatters will precede a three-game set in Morgantown, West Virginia against the Mountaineers.

As it stands, WVU sits atop the Big XII standings with an 8-4 conference record, tying with Oklahoma but holding the advantage by virtue of winning two of three during their weekend set in late March.

All games will be televised on ESPN+. The Stetson game will begin at 6:30 PM, and the three games against the Mountaineers will start at 6:30, 4:00, and 1:00 PM EST respectively, weather permitting.

Stetson Mad Hatters (22-10)

Common Opponents:

  • West Virginia* (2-2 series split to open season)
  • Florida (7-4 W)
  • Jacksonville (1-2 series loss)
  • south (if the state rotates 65 degrees counterclockwise) florida (19-9 W)
    • *UCF is about to play them for the first time

The Knights and Hatters met up nearly a month ago on March 13th, with the Knights taking the victory 7-1 in Orlando. Since this matchup, Stetson has gone 10-4, a span that held an 8-game winning streak and a 1-0 loss at FSU on March 19th. The Knights will likely send Cade Boxrucker out there to continue his midweek starter role, where he has done well in the last few weeks.

Second baseman Yohann Dessureault remains a name to watch as he still ranks at the top of the list for the power in Stetson’s lineup with 8 home runs and now tying for the team’s lead in RBI with catcher Gio Cueto with 26.

Outfielder Logan Hughes has been receiving more playing time of late for the Hatters, now tied for second on the squad with 4 home runs while leading them in OPS with a 1.046 mark.

West Virginia Mountaineers (19-12, 8-4 Big 12)

Common Opponents:

  • Stetson (2-2 series split to open season)
  • Oklahoma (2-1 series win)
  • Oklahoma State (1-2 series loss)
  • Kansas (3-0 series sweep)

The Mountaineers are not only flying high after their sweep over the Jayhawks (which puts them at four consecutive wins entering their Wednesday contest), but they also recently got back their best offensive player in J.J. Wetherholt from injury, who was on some preseason draft boards as a potential first overall pick.

At home, WVU has compiled a record of 8-5 (3-3) and shown a bit better approach at the plate when playing within the comforts of their own park, with three batters hitting over .300 at home compared to none in their road contests.

Offense

As mentioned previously, infielder J.J. Wetherholt is back, and while his numbers for this season are not yet where he’d like them due to injuries, he’s going to have to be a guy the Knights are careful with – but not too careful, as he can hurt the team in multiple ways.

In 2023, Wetherholt slashed .449/.517/.782 with 16 home runs and 35 stolen bases (8 times caught), leading some to believe he was destined to hear his name early in the upcoming MLB draft in July.

Around him, the WVU lineup is balanced and not concentrated to one area. Third baseman Reed Chumley leads the Mountaineers in home runs and RBI (8 and 23 respectively), with 4 of his home runs coming in conference play.

Catcher Sam White leads their squad in hits by a reasonable margin for this point in the year with 38 (second closest with 30 being Chumley). White is slashing .328/.419/.500 on the year and has been a constant force in their lineup as he also leads the team in plate appearances with 139.

Pitching

Derek Clark gets immediate attention here. Clark has made five starts on the year, and all but one have come in Big 12 play. His two complete games ties him for 5th in the nation with a host of other players (four are tied with 3 in first), but none of the others with two full outings have done so in as few starts as Clark has. Clark also leads the team in ERA with a miniscule 1.70 and despite just five appearances, has the second-most innings with 37. He has struck out 31 in that time and walked just 8.

Around Clark, Aidan Major and Tyler Switalski lead the team with eight starts each. Major has allowed a .222 batting average against while striking out 55 in 47 innings, both team-leading marks. Switalski, despite the number of starts, has not racked up many innings, with just 26 ⅓ on the season. 20 walks may be a good reason as to why he hasn’t gone deep in starts.

Max Yehl will likely make at least one appearance during the three game set, as the tall lefty leads the Mountaineers with 15 appearances, yet only 19 ⅓ innings. Bit of a mixed bag with Yehl, as he has struck out 25 but also walked 15.

Hambleton Oliver has four saves on the year and he, along with David Hagaman, have made 11 appearances on the season thus far. Except to see both this weekend in any close contest.

Before We See Them

The WVU Mountaineers will face off against the Marshall Thundering Herd on Wednesday, a team they have faced and defeated twice already by a combined score of 26-2.

Final Notes

This is the first weekend the Knights are on the road since the Kansas series three weeks ago, which the Knights took two of three with the final two being played on that Saturday due to weather concerns.

This will be a weekend where the bullpen may be tested more than usual. While they will be most likely well-rested, the injury to Hartley will put more of a strain on the team to get depth out of their starters in Vespi, Dom Stagliano, and likely Dom Castellano.

Can the Knights make it five BXII series victories in a row? If so, this one could catapult the group towards the top of the conference standings!

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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