UCF Baseball unable to keep Horns down

by | May 15, 2024 | 0 comments

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Knights Loss Caps Home Conference Slate

The Knights home schedule for 2024 has wrapped up. The inaugural Big 12 home slate has finished up. UCF has already locked in a still to be determined spot within the conference tournament beginning next week. Currently slotted 9th within the conference, there is a chance the Knights can finish as high as 6th before the season finalizes this coming weekend.

Following the final midweek against UNF, the Knights took on the Longhorns in a highly charged weekend that involved Senior Knight™, an on-field proposal, and an ejection. All of this occurred in front of some of the best crowds we’ve seen at The John™ this year to support the Knights (and a fair few to support Texas – credit to their traveling party).

Recap of the Week


North Florida (7-4 W) – Tuesday 5/7


Texas (3-6 L, 5-4 W, 7-10 L)

The Good

  • Big 12 Tourney Spot Locked In
    • Thanks to the Saturday win and an Oklahoma sweep over Baylor, the Knights are guaranteed a spot in the conference tournament. Seeding is still TBD.
  • Never Back Down
    • Despite numerous tough scenarios over the week, the Knights showed resilience and fought their way back to either win games or keep it close.
  • An Engagement!
    • Congratulations are in order for senior catcher and fan-favorite Keano Suarez on his engagement to his long-time girlfriend Ivanna. Following the Senior Knight introductions [17 seniors!], Keano got down on a knee and popped the question.
    • When asked if she said yes, Suarez replied, “I would hope so, I don’t know, I blacked out pretty bad.” [She did, she said yes.]

The Bad

  • Horns Up
    • Texas used opportune hitting, taking advantage of any small mistakes the Knights made to get the series win.
  • The LOB Machine
    • A major issue for the Knights during the season, especially once conference play began, was struggling to get runners in once they got on. 21 runners left on base over the three games, many coming in major moments.

The In-Between

  • Bullpen Reshaping
    • Spencer Bauer returned from his injury and Najer Victor appears to be on the path to returning to form at a crucial time in the season.
    • Kris Sosnowski has emerged lately as a strong option for the Knights late in games.
      • “He’s earned those tight situations to go out there and help us,” Rich Wallace mentioned after Tuesday’s final.

Ospreys, Ospreys

The third and final game of the season against University of North Florida resulted in a season sweep for the Knights, wrapping up a 7-4 win on Tuesday night.

Wiley Hartley returned to the rotation after about a month away due to injury, getting a truncated two-inning start as the Knights coaching staff wanted to see where he was physically before sending him out for the weekend. Wallace mentioned he was happy with what they saw, with Hartley’s velocity sitting at his normal low-90’s with his fastball.

The Knights got a jolt in the fifth inning of this contest, when center fielder Anthony Calabro stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and no outs, down 4-3 to the Ospreys. With a 1-2 count, Calabro got a hanging breaking ball over the heart of the plate and sent the ball beyond the wall in left field, giving the Knights a 7-4 advantage that resulted in being the final score.

“Felt great, first one at The John™, so it was super exciting,” Calabro said of his grand slam. The homer was Calabro’s second of the year overall.

Kyle Kramer picked up his team-leading 7th win of the year, all out of the bullpen, and Kris Sosnowski grabbed his third save within a week with a scoreless 9th. The pitching staff racked up 12 strikeouts and walked just 2 in the contest.

Longhorn Lethargy

For the first time, the Texas Longhorns made their way down to Orlando to play at John Euliano Park.

Game 1

Missed opportunities were the name of the game in this one for UCF. After jumping out to an early lead thanks to a Jack Zyska sacrifice fly, Texas tied the game in the 2nd and went on to take the lead for good in the 4th.

The Knights grabbed a pair of runs in the 7th to make it a one-run game and had the bases loaded in the 8th after three consecutive walks, but a first pitch flyout cost the Knights a major opportunity. Texas then tacked on two more runs the 9th to seal up the game and put the Knights into an early weekend hole.

“There’s opportunities out there, you gotta have your best at-bats in the biggest moments, and if you don’t … feel like you left something out there,” said Coach Wallace following the game.

While there were only two errors on the scoreboard for the Knights, there were a total of at least five balls put in play by Texas hitters that should have been outs. Texas scored at least three of their runs as an indirect result of these plays, including the two in the ninth inning.

A bright spot for the Knights in this one was the return of reliever Spencer Bauer, coming off a blister and throwing two hitless innings in relief of Ben Vespi, who has been stringing solid starts together of late.

Prior to the game, the 1989 team was honored, with a return to the ballpark for long-time coach Jay Bergman and a few of the players from that squad, the first in school history to make a regional.

Game 2

Senior Knight!

A pair of scoreless frames started this one as starters Dom Stagliano and Ace Whitehead traded zeroes to begin their outings. After Stags posted a third scoreless frame, the Knights bats broke through with a three-run homer by Matt Prevesk, his fifth of the season.

With a lead in his pocket, Stagliano kept rolling along, accepting an insurance run the Knights grabbed in the 4thafter taking advantage of a Texas error. Stagliano was able to get through 6⅔ innings before tiring, allowing just one baserunner (a solo home run in the 5th) up to this point. Like Vespi, Stags has been putting together strong outings recently.

“It’s a matter of executing the pitches and at the end of the day, the stats are what the stats are,” Stagliano mentioned of his start.

 After a walk and an RBI triple with two outs, Stagliano gave way to his fellow Dom – Dominic Castellano. After allowing a softly-hit single through the left side scoring the third run for Texas, Castellano settled in, striking out the next three and posting a perfect 8th.

The Knights grabbed a two-out RBI triple of their own off the bat of catcher Danny Neri in the bottom of the 8th to grab an insurance run. Newly engaged Keano Suarez pinch-ran for designated hitter Matt Cedarburg after a one-out walk, moved up to second via stolen base and took third on a wild pitch to set up Neri’s opportunity.

Regarding Neri’s triple, Suarez said, “I pinch-run for Danny all the time … don’t think that’s going to happen again!”

A first pitch home run for Texas in the 9th raised the tension in the ballpark, but once again, Castellano settled down and kept his composure, getting a groundout and a pair of strikeouts to end things. The final at bat of the game ran 13 pitches, ending on a perfectly located 3-2 slider by Castellano on the outside corner for a called third strike.

Game 3

Early and often, that was the method of scoring for Texas in this one. The Longhorns grabbed five runs in the first four innings with a mix of power, patience, and fundamental ball. Starter Wiley Hartley was only able to provide 1 ⅓ innings in his outing, giving up four runs in that span before giving way to Chase Centala for 2 ⅔, his first outing in a couple of weeks.

Centala gave up a run in the 4th after a controversial “fair ball” call down the third base line started the inning for Texas, resulting in a double that came around to score on a two-out RBI single three hitters later.

Centala walked the first hitter in the 5th inning and a fairly fired up Rich Wallace came out to get him. While chatting with Chase, the home plate umpire came out and got into a minor verbal confrontation with Wallace who was attempting to buy a little extra time for a pitching change.

After the change was made, Wallace was ejected as he was walking back to the dugout after continuing his case for his disagreements with the umpire. After Najer Victor kept the Longhorns scoreless in the 5th after the ejection, the Knights bats woke up and fired back, scoring five runs in a flash to tie up the game.

“First time [I’ve been ejected],” Wallace mentioned post-game. Adding in regarding the offensive response to the ejection, “I think they were just tired of the way the game was going.”

While the Knights grabbed five in that inning, it certainly could have, and perhaps should have been more. During Jack Zyska’s at-bat, Jack swung at an 0-2 offering up in the zone and immediately turned back to the umpire to declare catcher’s interference. The umpire claimed it was only a foul tip for a strikeout, and even with replay review, the call was not overturned. Had it been, the Knights would have had one extra out to work with in the inning.

Momentum unfortunately did not stay on UCF’s side, and it’s a credit to the Longhorns for their mindset and skills on the field as a team. After a popout started things, Texas got three straight baserunners, including a play that involved a replay overturn of an out call at second base, setting the stage for them to retake the lead.

A sacrifice fly to deep right-center field followed by a ground ball to left-center that went straight where a shortstop would have been positioned in a standard alignment scored two more. At this point, it simply felt that no matter what happened, it just went the Longhorns’ way. Shifts, fielding attempts, close calls, reviews, all of it.

The Knights rallied in the 7th to grab two more and return it to a one-run game, but Texas once again did what they do best and put pressure on the pitchers. Texas loaded the bases with no outs as the Knights went to Spencer Bauer, who did ended up allowing two of those runners to score on productive outs made by the Longhorn hitters, sending it to a 10-7 score which ended up being the final.

All in all, the Knights played tough against one of the best teams in the conference, but ultimately fell two games to one in the series, the last Big XII matchup at home this year.

The Week Ahead

Unfortunately, the final home game for the Knights against Bethune-Cookman has been rained out. Therefore, the team is heading back on the road to end the season in Waco, Texas against the Baylor Bears.

Due to qualifying for the Big XII tournament, the Knights will stay in Texas a bit longer than the usual three game stint, as the team will head just a little bit north to Arlington for the tournament.

This weekend’s matchup with Baylor will be the first between the schools in baseball. UCF’s three-game set against them will be on ESPN+, starting at 7:30, 7:30, and 2:00 PM respectively. NOTE: This series begins THURSDAY the 16th, not Friday as is the standard.

Baylor Bears (21-29, 9-18 BXII)

Common Opponents:

  • Houston (0-3 Sweep)
  • Texas Tech (2-1 Series Win)
  • Texas (1-2 Series Loss)
  • Cincinnati (2-1 Series Win)
  • Kansas (1-2 Series Loss)
  • WVU (0-3 Sweep)
  • Oklahoma (0-3 Sweep)

The final regular season series, the final conference games before the tournament. At this time, the Knights will be playing more for seeding than anything else. Inside of Big XII matchups, Baylor is currently sitting on an 11-game losing streak and was just eliminated from tournament contention with their sweep at the hands of the Sooners.


On the mound, the Bears have had a bit of a struggle in 2024. The team has posted an ERA of 6.74, striking out only 20.6% of batters they’ve faced (good for 117th in D1) while walking 12% of those same batters (a reasonably worse 209th in D1).

Baylor has had two constants in their weekend rotation this year – Mason Marriott (typical game 1 starter) and Collin McKinney (typical game 2 starter).

Marriott leads the team in innings (63 ⅔), strikeouts (60), and starts (13, tied with McKinney), averaging just under five innings a start. Over that time, Marriott has held an ERA of 5.80 and allowed a .274 batting average to opposing hitters.

McKinney, the fellow 13-game starter for the Bears, has a higher K-rate than Marriott (58 in 49 innings), but has walked a fair bit more (34, compared to Marriott’s 33 over his innings worked). McKinney sits with a 6.61 ERA and has averaged just over 3 ⅔ innings an outing.

The third game of all the series Baylor has played this year has been mainly handled by Mason Green (8 of the 13 starts). Green has a 7.20 ERA and 38 strikeouts (19 walks) over 40 innings pitched, allowing batters to hit .299 against him on the year, along with an OPS of .886 against him, showing that batters are making strong contact against him [McKinney and Marriott have allowed OPS of .872 and .782 respectively].

If the third game is not started by Mason Green, the Bears have used Ethan Calder lately to get things rolling. While Calder has started just two games, he has pitched well overall on the season in 20 appearances, holding a team-best 3.33 ERA (minimum 30 innings) and limiting his walks on the year to just 9 over 48 ⅔ innings.

Calder has made it beyond the fifth in both of his starts, something McKinney and Marriott have failed to do in most of their recent outings, which can help the Bears bullpen get a bit more of a breather.


Time to look at the Bear’s bats. Designated Hitter Wesley Johnson leads the team in homers with 7 and is tied with 11 doubles for the lead in that category. Johnson’s 1.073 OPS also leads the squad. It is worth nothing, Jordan has done this in 13 less games than the next player that will be mentioned.

Outfielder Enzo Apodaca is hitting .327 on the year with a .920 OPS, 6 home runs, and a team-leading 38 RBI. Apodaca has also struck out just 19 times on the year, the least among regular starters for the Bears. He also paces the team in hit-by-pitch with 12, helping him achieve the second-best OBP on the team at .415.

While not much power to be concerned about, outfielder Ty Johnson does possess a bit of speed and solid hitting ability, slashing .323/.400/.430 on the season with a team-leading 10 steals (next closest has just five). Look for Ty to not stick around too long if he gets on base.

Random Note

The Bears have three players named Mason on their squad – Marriott, Green, and infielder Mason Greer make up the trio. This is, of course, reminiscent of the Knights’ Four Andrews™ quartet.

Before We See Them

Baylor will be playing a non-conference midweek game against TCU on Tuesday night, a squad that swept them to begin the month and has been surging of late after a slow start to the season.

Final Notes

As mentioned at the open, the Knights currently sit 9th in the Big XII standings with a chance to potentially get as high as 6th. The three teams above them that are reachable, those teams being Kansas, TCU, and Kansas State, will face off against Texas (road), West Virginia (home), and BYU (home) respectively.

As the Knights had a conference game washed away in the previous weekend with Houston, no ties will be possible, so tie-breaking scenarios will not be necessary.

The Big XII Tournament will begin on Tuesday, May 21st, so mark your calendars, and be ready to continue cheering on the Knights after this weekend! 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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