UCF built an 8-0 lead and held off a late rally by No. 5 Florida to knock off the Gators, 8-6, Wednesday in Orlando. The Knights (24-14) swept the two-game midweek series with UF (28-10), marking their first sweep of at least two games over Florida since 1990.
“Coming out with a win in front of a huge crowd feels pretty good,” said Derek Luciano, who went 2-for-4 with three RBI and a homer. “We love playing in front of big crowds. We feel like we thrive in these conditions. The more people that are here the better, and they got us going tonight.”
A crowd of 3,601 fans flooded the gates to set a UCF single-game attendance record, eclipsing the previous mark of 2,758 set vs. UF March 18, 2009.
“It was a great team win,” said head coach Terry Rooney. “We appreciate the great atmosphere. We had about 3,600 fans, and this is what college baseball is becoming throughout the entire country.
“When we got off the bus from East Carolina, people were mad and frustrated. I was too. But I said to the team that there are two things to understand. Number one is that we are going to keep believing that we are one of the best teams in the country. That’s where it starts. The second thing is that we are going to keep working. And this team has really responded.”
UCF kept Florida in check for seven innings with five different pitchers shutting down the Gators with two hits. But a six-run eighth made things interesting before Joe Rogers was able to wrap up the final 1.2 innings, striking out four.
The Black and Gold used a total of seven pitchers, and did not let UF get the leadoff batter on base until the eighth inning. During that stretch, the bullpen combined to retire 10-straight batters. Starter Chase Bradford was scheduled for just the first two innings and he made them count, not letting a Gator reach base to get the win (3-1).
Along with Luciano’s three RBI, Chris Taladay chipped in three as well, all with two outs, and Beau Taylor racked up three hits from the No. 9 hole.
Bradford made the first two innings look easy, retiring all six batters he faced in his short start, striking out two in the process. That set up the bottom of the second vs. Tommy Toledo where Erik Hempe added a one-out single and would eventually touch home when Travis Shreve lined a two-out RBI single into left-center.
With a 1-0 lead and Rooney sticking with his plan to use multiple pitchers, he sent out Alex Besaw for the third and the senior did face a slight jam but left two runners aboard by getting Bryson Smith to fly out softly to right.
The Knights then attempted to increase its advantage in the home half as Taylor led off with a single and was sacrificed to second by Darnell Sweeney. Following a walk to Ronnie Richardson, D.J. Hicks grounded out and Jonathan Griffin was plunked to load them up with two down. Alex Panteliodis then watched as Taladay hammered the first pitch of the at-bat into center to plate a pair of runs.
That 3-0 cushion remained intact in the fourth thanks to Brennan Dobbins forcing Brian Johnson to ground into an inning-ending 4-3 double play, and again in the fifth with Bryan Brown working a perfect frame.
With the pitching staff dealing, UCF stretched it to 5-0 in the fifth. Kick-started by a double inside the third-base bag by Richardson, the center fielder touched third with two down and even though he faced a 0-2 count, Taladay sent a RBI single into left-center. And the Knights were not done. Following a base hit out of Hempe, Luciano took a 2-0 offering and sent it to left to bring in Taladay.
As the bats produced runs, the arms were producing zeros, highlighted by Nick Cicio tossing perfect innings in the sixth and seventh. And the offense was not satisfied with its 5-0 advantage when it strode to the plate for the seventh. Hicks greeted Anthony DeSclafani by turning on a 0-2 pitch, crushing it over the right-field wall for a solo shot, and with Griffin aboard with two down, Luciano lined a two-run homer into the UCF bullpen in right.
Holding a commanding 8-0 lead, UCF witnessed Florida take off. After a two-run home run by Tyler Thompson vs. Hicks, the righty got into trouble by loading them up with one out, giving way to Rogers. And the southpaw was taken deep to right as Preston Tucker demolished a grand slam to make it 8-6.
With Florida’s dugout now carrying all of the momentum, Rogers settled the visitors down. Working around a leadoff error in the ninth, he struck out Jeff Moyer, picked up the second out on a great defensive play from Sweeney at short and then fanned pinch-hitter Ben McMahan on an 0-2 pitch to finally end it.
The Knights now leave for Tennessee Thursday to prepare for a three-game Conference USA series at Memphis Friday-Sunday.