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UCF/OSU Late Knight Extra Innings Recap

Article by Don Strouble

It was just two days ago that UCF jumped out to an early 3-0 lead that helped them to an extra innings 6-5 victory over the Cincinnati Bearcats to start 1-0 in the Big 12 Championship Series.

Fast forward to Thursday night, and UCF would find themselves on the wrong side of a series of early runs as their opponent, the OSU Cowboys, would put together a four run first inning off of starting pitcher Ben Vespi. 

UCF would find themselves down 1-0 before the ball would leave Vespi’s hand three times. Oklahoma State center fielder and Tampa native Zach Ehrhard would send a first pitch leadoff double to left center to get the Cowboys in scoring position. Right fielder Carson Benge would follow up with a first pitch single up the middle, scoring Ehrhard and quickly making it 1-0.

Things didn’t get much better for Vespi and the Knights defense, as OSU would score three more runs off the right-handed senior in the bottom of the first to make it 4-0. 

For UCF, this deficit was going to be quite the arduous task to overcome.

The Knights answered the call, as they were able to string together an electric four run inning of their own. Oklahoma State, the Big 12 leader in ERA, squandered their comfortable early lead, as half of UCF’s runs scored in their second inning comeback were a result of wild pitches by Cowboys starting left hander Brennan Phillips

UCF’s high scoring response forced OSU head coach Josh Holliday to go to his bullpen early. The quick pitching change was the second time in this tournament that UCF forced the opposing starter off the mound before two innings of work. 

Despite a disastrous opening inning for Vespi, UCF head coach Rich Wallace decided to stay with his starter, and the right hander seemed to gain a boost of confidence as a result of his team’s rapid comeback. Vespi would settle in and help his team put the Cowboys down in 1-2-3 fashion in back-to-back outings. 

After two and a half scoreless innings by either team, the Cowboys would take advantage of Vespi’s growing wear and tear, as Carson Benge would strike again with a lead off solo shot to right center. Vespi was able to get out of the inning without allowing anymore damage, and his 93-pitch night would end after five innings of work with OSU leading 5-4.

After a scoreless sixth inning, the Knights were beginning to run out of time as they went into the top of the seventh. It was here that designated hitter Matt Cedarburg, who had gone just 1-9 in Arlington during this tournament, would send a clutch two run homer to the stands in left field and give a one run lead back to his team.

The Knights would fail to protect their one run lead, as OSU’s senior third baseman, Tyler Wulfert, would pull an RBI double off of UCF reliever Spencer Bauer to left field, tying the game back up at 6-6 and forcing Rich Wallace to go back to his bullpen.

A scoreless ninth inning would send UCF and OSU to a late-night extra innings battle; it was the second time the Knights would play extra innings since arriving in Arlington.

AJ Nessler, who had not been in the starting lineup in either of UCF’s tournament games, was called upon to pinch hit in the top of the 10th. Luckily for Wallace and his team, the decision to pinch hit Nessler paid off, as the sophomore would send an RBI single to left to give the Knights the lead back and a chance to close out the Cowboys.

Dominic Castellano would close the deal for UCF in beautiful fashion, as the left-hander fanned two of the three batters he faced in the bottom of the 10th. UCF would go on to win 7-6 at 2 a.m. ESTafter trailing 4-0 early.

The Knights face the possibility of a rematch with the Cowboys in less than 24 hours, as OSU will play Texas Tech on Friday afternoon. If the Cowboys beat the Red Raiders, they will meet UCF once again on Friday night. Though UCF has improved to 2-0 in Arlington, the Big 12 Championship now moves to single elimination, meaning that the season is on the line for the Knights and every other team involved.

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