UCF Baseball rockets past Houston Cougars

by | May 7, 2024 | 0 comments

Home E Baseball E UCF Baseball rockets past Houston Cougars

Knights secured rain shortened perfect weekend

🎵 On the road again … đźŽ¶

The Knights made the bus trip up to Jacksonville for game 2 of 3 against the North Florida Ospreys on Tuesday before heading out to Houston Thursday night for what was initially scheduled to be a three-game set.

The weather, of course, had other plans, and washed away the third game. The Knights, however, did not let this dampen their spirits, as they head back home for a five-game homestand at The John™ riding a modest three-game win streak and coming off a perfect week.

Recap of the Week


@ North Florida (6-2 W)


@ Houston (4-1 W, 6-4 W, Canceled Game 3)

The Good

  • Pitching
    • Solid performances took place throughout the week for the Knights, especially out of the bullpen (save for … one pitch. More on that later).
  • Clutch Hits Late
    • Jack Zyska had a third go-ahead home run inside of a week and Mikey Kluska (Klutch-ka?) provided a major spark for the Knights on Saturday.
  • Rain Provides Some Rest
    • Nothing wrong with an extra day off, right?

The Bad

  • That Rainout
    • Sure, nothing IS wrong with an extra day off, but unfortunately it does mean a conference game gets dropped from the schedule and is unlikely to be made up due to the proximity of season’s end. An extra win could have been crucial for the Knights in terms of seeding within the conference, as current seeds 5 through 10 are all bunched together with just a 2.5-game difference between those spots.
    • There is also a three-way tie for second!
  • Baserunning Still a Concern?
    • While it didn’t hurt the record for the week, the Knights did run themselves into a few outs, a couple of which came at home plate.

The Random

  • By Any Means Necessary
    • Has Andrew Brait figured out his new preferred method of consistently getting on base? Read below for more.

The Bus Ride

UCF continued their midweek dominance with another win over the North Florida Ospreys, this time up in Jacksonville. This was a game that had many balance-swinging moments just within the first two innings, as the Knights loaded the bases twice and the Ospreys were able to get five runners on in those two frames, but only one run total scored with the Knights grabbing that one in the 2nd off an error.

After six innings, the game was knotted at 2, without either side having actually produced an RBI on the stat sheet. Andrew Brait brought in the first run via ball in play with that error mentioned previously and then scored on a wild pitch in the 5th. UNF scored both of theirs via double play ball, where the batter is not given an RBI due to the plays resulting in two outs.

Tyler Kozera and Kris Sosnowski combined for five innings of scoreless two-hit ball (Kozera did allow one inherited run to score), striking out six in the process and earning Sosnowski his first save.

Jack Zyska’s go-ahead home run (10th) in the 7th inning with two outs gave the Knights the lead for good but may not have occurred if not for Brait reaching on an error yet again – Brait was on base after all five plate appearances, three times reaching on an error, a double, and a walk. The Knights would tack on two more in the ninth for insurance.

Space-U Supremacy

Ben Vespi turned in his best performance of the year, going seven innings and allowing two hits in Friday night’s game, striking out 5. He allowed just one run, a home run on the first pitch in the 5th to the Cougars right fielder Cary Arbolidabut was otherwise unperturbed by the lineup he faced.

Vespi’s seven inning performance marked the third start by a UCF pitcher this year of at least seven innings, and he began the game retiring the first ten batters he faced. Following Ben’s departure, Dominic Castellano came in and did his thing, tossing two scoreless innings with 3 strikeouts to finish off the Knights 4-1 win.

For the first time since returning from injury, Andrew Sundean went yard, homering to left-center for his fifth longball of the season. This happened to be another occurrence of the Knights taking advantage of the opposing defense, as, you guessed it, Andrew Brait reached on an error! Four times in one week reaching on an error, that must be some sort of record somewhere.

Dominic Stagliano did his best to follow up on Vespi’s outing, retiring the first nine that he faced before surrendering a walk to start the 4th. Dom ended up going 5 â…” innings before allowing his first hit of the game, then suddenly could no longer find the strike zone, walking the next two and giving way to Kyle Kramer to try and deal with a bases loaded situation.

Here’s that “one pitch” that was mentioned earlier. The Knights entered this scenario with a 4-0 lead, and with a hanging 1-2 slider over the heart of the plate, Houston’s Harold Coll launched a ball over the left field fence to tie the game in the sixth. Three of those runs charged to Stagliano with just Coll’s run counting on Kramer’s line.

Kramer did bounce back, striking out the side in the seventh (just the second Knight to do that this year!), and recorded one more out in the 8th before giving way to Kris Sosnowski. “Sos” was able to finish things up with 1 â…” scoreless innings with a strikeout and his second save of the week and season.

Offensively, the Knights spread out the runs. One in the second and the fifth, two in the sixth and eighth, with the final two being the game-winning runs. With two outs in the 8th, Sundean drew a walk and was lifted for a pinch-runner who moved up to second after a Matt Prevesk sacrifice bunt.

After another out, Danny Neri and Andrew Estrella (pinch-hitting) were able to work the counts in their favor and each ended up walking, setting the stage for Mikey Kluska’s heroics. Kluska laced a first-pitch single into left field to score Neri and Keano Suarez (Sundean’s pinch-runner), giving the Knights a lead they would not relinquish and Kluska a total of three RBI on the game.

Kluska had himself a solid week, hitting balls hard to all fields. He may have adjusted his approach slightly and if so, should look to stick with it.

As mentioned previously, the third game of the series was rained out. This game, however, would have seen the return of Wiley Hartley who missed a few weeks with an oblique injury. Hartley will get a little extra recovery time thanks to this rainout and should be more than ready to go for this upcoming week.

Due to the truncation of the series, the Knights technically complete their first Big 12 conference series sweep!

The Week Ahead

The final homestand of the 2024 season is coming up. Five games to come out and support your Knights as they look to lock in a spot in the Big XII conference tournament.

The Knights will host the North Florida Ospreys for their third and final game against each other before welcoming in the Texas Longhorns for what will be the only in-conference matchup between the schools. … until realignment kicks in yet again in about six years, who’s to say?

As has been an unfortunate theme this year, the midweek game (now on Tuesday the 7th) will not be televised. All three games against Texas will be available on ESPN+ with the standard 6/6/1 start times.

North Florida Ospreys (20-24)

Record Since Last Meeting: 1-1 (Kennesaw State)

Third time seeing this group. At this point, you know who to look out for.

Jakob Runnels. Cherokee Nichols. Tripp McKinlay. Connor Moore.

These four recorded six hits amongst themselves during the two games played over the weekend, along with two walks.

Texas Longhorns (30-19, 15-9 BXII)

Common Opponents:

  • Texas Tech (2-1 series win)
  • Kansas State (2-1 series win)
  • Houston (2-1 series win)
  • Oklahoma (2-1 series win)
  • Oklahoma State (2-1 series win)

Alright, Alright, Alright. It’s time to face Matthew McConaughey’s alma mater, the Texas Longhorns.

The Texas baseballers are currently sitting tied for second in the conference with Oklahoma State and West Virginia. Technically, they should be by themselves in second, as they won their series against Oklahoma State and the Cowboys won their series against West Virginia. So, let’s just say, Texas is alone in second right now in the Big XII.

Their squad has put together a solid season-long run, with their longest losing streak (four games) coming early in the season in a small tournament-style weekend. Their longest winning streak, six games, occurred just before that. Balance!

Since then, the Longhorns have been solid, dropping just two weekend series after that mini-tournament [to Washington and to … BYU?? Baseball is weird].

(Sidebar – Washington has a tie this year!)

Oddly enough, despite their run of success within the conference this year, they haven’t swept a Big XII team yet. Please knock on wood after reading this.

Let’s see how the Longhorns have been able to set up their success in 2024.


For most of the season, the Game 1 starter for the Longhorns had been Lebarron Johnson, Jr. About a month ago, the team made a switch and moved him to the Game 3 starter role due to some struggles. It appears to be working thus far, as the Longhorns are 3-1 in Game 3s since the change.

Johnson leads Texas in both strikeouts (61) and walks (33) over 55 ⅔ innings for the 2024 campaign. Highly touted entering the year, and with good reason, Johnson’s ERA sits at a lofty 5.82 after posting a 2.91 ERA in 2023. He began the season strong, but once conference play began, things took a turn for him, as he currently holds an 8.53 ERA over 31 ⅔ innings in conference games.

Texas began the year with Charlie Hurley and Cody Howard as their Game 2 starters, but seven weeks ago, made the change to use Ace Whitehead in that role and they haven’t lost Game 2 of a weekend series since then (7-0).

Ace is living up to his name, posting a .212 batting average against on the year while sporting a 3.73 ERA. He pitched a complete game against Baylor in late March, although he has yet to top 6 innings since then. Whitehead has tied for the team lead in innings pitched within conference games at 42 â…“, although his ERA is nearly a full run higher in Big XII games at 4.46. That said, 33 of his 37 strikeouts have taken place in conference games.

The other pitcher with 42 â…“ innings within conference games, and now their Game 1 starter, sophomore Max Grubbshas given the team at least a decent chance to win over his last four appearances, getting through at least five innings in all but one of his last eight starts, four of which took place in Game 3s.

Grubbs has a starters-best ERA of 3.70 on the year, although his K/9 numbers do sit a bit lower on the squad [39 in 58 ⅓ innings, 6.02 K/9]. He does, however, have solid command of the strike zone, walking just 12 on the season. Grubbs’ ERA within the conference sits close to his overall, at 3.83.

Out of the bullpen, look for Gage Boehm if Texas has a late lead. Boehm has pitched just once in each of the last three series, but has gone at least 2 â…“ innings in each appearance, allowing just one run in that span.

Over 19 appearances, Boehm has logged a 2.65 ERA and 42 strikeouts over his 37 â…“ innings for 2024. Batters are hitting just .207 against him and he has logged five saves on the season.


On the offensive side of things, look out for overall Big XII home run leaders in outfielder Max Belyeu and shortstop Jalin Flores. Fourth in the league for overall home runs is another Longhorn, first baseman Jared Thomas. Belyeu is also the leader in home runs during conference games with 11.

These three can not only just slug the ball, but they can hit the ball well in general, with the worst slash line of those three belonging to Flores, sitting at .345/.408/.680. Flores’ slugging does sit higher than Thomas’, but the first baseman leads the team in steals with 12 and has yet to be caught.

The trio of Longhorns are also at the top of the team in RBI, with 45 (Belyeu), 44 (Flores), and 39 (Thomas), the third of which is tied with third baseman Peyton Powell, another solid hitter slashing .338/.421/.538 on the season and has 9 home runs to his credit and more walks than strikeouts. Powell leads the squad in walks with 27.

As a team, it should come as no surprise that Texas has the most home runs within the conference at an even 50 entering the week, 99 on the season overall. They don’t steal too much, with just 36 on the year, meaning Thomas has exactly ⅓ of their total, but with that much slugging, why risk it? The team slugging percentage sits at .540, good for 16thin Division 1 Ball.

Before We See Them

Texas will face … no one! The Longhorns will be completely rested entering their series against the Knights. Perhaps it IS a good thing the Knights got rained out Sunday!

Final Notes

As mentioned previously, Texas has a robust winning streak in the second game of the series, with seven in a row won in those contests. The best chance the Knights may have could be in Game 1, where Texas is just 4-8 on the year, including dropping seven opening games in a row at one point.

The Knights, due to being idle Sunday, currently sit 9th in the conference at 11-12. Had Sunday’s game been played, and had the Knights won, it would have placed the team 7th just above Kansas State. A loss would have put the team in the same spot as now, 9th.

This is a big weekend for the Knights as they can clinch a spot in the Big 12 tournament as soon as this weekend, with at least one win and an Oklahoma sweep of Baylor. The Knights have not been swept at home this year, nor have the Longhorns swept a conference series on the season. Once again, please knock on wood after reading that statement.

Five home games left! Get out there and support the Knights at The John™! 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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