UCF splits the first two games against Tulane by winning one game quickly and losing the other slowly.
In game one on Friday, fans in attendance at John Euliano Park saw a quick-paced pitching duel as the Knights (25-16, AAC 9-4) defeated the Green Wave (26-16-1, AAC 8-5), 2-1.
“I’m just proud of the kids, in the past we felt sorry for ourselves and tonight we came out and kept playing,” UCF head coach Greg Lovelady said in a postgame press conference on Friday. “We keep getting better and our kids are playing a lot better and playing with a lot more confidence.”
UCF sophomore pitcher Ben Vespi worked a career-high seven innings, striking out a career-high seven batters, earning the win. He only gave up one earned run in the outing.
“Just keeping it pitch by pitch, keeping the game small just executing the pitches letting our defense work behind me,” Vespi said. “We got a great defense, great offense to take the dub.”
Vespi and UCF redshirt junior pitcher Kyle Kramer combined to retire 15-straight Green Wave batters, before a double in the ninth by the Green Wave broke that streak. Kramer worked the final two innings, allowing one hit and struck out four batters to earn his fifth save of the season.
“Kramer just comes in and shuts the door, comes out and was awesome, overcomes the misplay of the fly ball there in the ninth,” Lovelady said.
Tulane got the scoring started in the second inning.
The Green Wave scored after a leadoff double by freshman infielder Brady Marget dropped in the gap in left center. Sophomore outfielder Chase Engelhard singled with one out advancing Marget to third with one out.
Marget came around to score on a groundout by graduate student infielder Trevor Minder. Vespi would end up closing the door on the inning, limiting the damage to one run, before striking out the final batter of the inning.
Tulane and UCF traded scoreless innings, until five and half innings later, when Knights redshirt junior Ben McCabe singled to lead off the seventh inning.
UCF redshirt freshman infielder Michael Brooks dropped down a two-strike sacrifice bunt down the third base line, forcing the third baseman to rush the throw over the head of the first baseman.
Brooks reached second safely while McCabe came around to tie the ballgame at one a piece.
UCF redshirt senior Trent Taylor moved Brooks to third with a sacrifice bunt of his own, before Knights redshirt sophomore Pablo Ruiz stepped up to the plate. With two-out and two-strikes, Ruiz was able to loft one over the second baseman’s head to score Brooks from third and give UCF a 2-1 lead.
“You just try to compete with two strikes put the ball in play, I think Pablo gets down to two strikes and just finds a way to put the ball in play and gets a huge hit, it’s by an inch,” Lovelady said. “That’s all we needed, we didn’t need a line drive off the top of the fence, we just needed a ball that nobody could catch.”
Tulane sophomore pitcher Dylan Carmouche gave the Green Wave seven strong innings only allowing two unearned runs. However, the performance wasn’t enough on a night when Vespi and Kramer stole the show.
“I’m proud of our kids,” Lovelady said. “Number one you got to tip your cap to Dylan, I mean he just pitched his tail off. Offensively, I thought we struggled for the first six innings just trying to put pressure on him, got out of our game, just didn’t make any adjustment just kept rolling over groundballs, guy just kept throwing changeups and we just didn’t do enough.
“But obviously Ben just stepped up huge, just kept putting zeroes up on the board and giving us a chance.”
On Saturday, the second game took a little over four hours to finish, unlike game one. Both teams went to the bullpen several times as the Green Wave (27-16-1, AAC 9-5) outlasted the Knights (25-17, AAC 9-5), 7-5.
UCF and Tulane went to the bullpen five times. Twelve pitchers, six for each team, pitched in the game.
The game started with good pitching, but eventually the hitters prevailed for both teams. On UCF’s side, miscues hurt the Knights.
UCF committed three errors on Saturday, allowing only two earned runs as the Knights' four-game winning streak ended.
“We just pitched like crap and played horrible defense,” Lovelady said. “We made too many errors and easy plays we got to be able to make, with two outs and two strikes both of those situations we were brutal just hitting guys, walking guys or throwing balls right down the middle.”
Knights’ pitcher Zack Hunsicker received the loss, allowing three-unearned runs and striking out two batters. He fell to 2-1 on the season, while Tulane pitcher Zack DeVito improves to 3-1 for the Green Wave.
UCF reliever Cameron Crain provided the Knights with a strong three innings to start the game, only allowing three hits and one unearned run.
For Tulane, Siegel pitched four solid innings only allowing one unearned run in the third inning. However, the fifth gave him trouble, Siegel gave up two earned, which led to his exit in what appeared to be a strong start.
On the hitting side of things for the Green Wave, Marget had another strong outing. He went two for three and was credited with three RBIs.
Tulane redshirt junior outfielder Jared Hart also had a nice day getting on base three times and coming across to score three times for the Green Wave.
McCabe and redshirt junior outfielder Gephry Pena both hit home runs, driving in three of the five UCF runs.
“Offensively, we kept fighting,” Lovelady said. “Gephry hit a big home run, McCabe hit a big home run. You give up the lead twice, I’m just proud they kept competing I don’t know if we’ve done that four weeks ago, so we are making strides in that realm.
“We got to have short memories now. All of those guys that pitched today are going to have to pitch tomorrow probably.”
The Knights got the scoring started unlike game one where Tulane struck first. UCF redshirt junior infielder Noah Orlando came across to score on a wild pitch in the third inning.
Tulane answered in the top of the fourth, before UCF regained the lead once again in the fifth. McCabe hit his fifth home run of the season, a two-run home run to left field to extend the Knights lead to 3-1.
Tulane went on to score runs in the sixth and seventh to tie the game at 3-3, before Pena’s solo home run in the bottom of the seventh to give UCF the lead again.
In the eighth, the Green Wave scored three runs to take their first lead of the ballgame, before adding some insurance in the top of the ninth to extend their lead to 7-4.
UCF battled in the ninth, The Knights scratched across a run with runners in scoring position and one out in the ninth as redshirt junior infielder Tom Josten singled to left center field to score Orlando from third. With runners on the corners, Brooks grounded into 1-6-3 double play to end the game and even the series.
“You know tough lost, just frustrating, we did a lot of good things offensively, just kept fighting,” Lovelady said. “Proud of the kids there in the ninth to get the winning run up to the plate.”
UCF will look to take the series on Sunday at 1 p.m. at John Euliano Park.