ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFKnights.com) – In his last at-bat at John Euliano Park, senior Brandon Hernandez dropped a single to shallow left field to give the UCF baseball team an 11-10 win in 11 innings in the regular season finale against Houston. Hernandez’s walk-off hit sent the Knights into the American Athletic Conference Tournament winners of 11 of their last 14 games.
“Walking off on Senior Knight could not have been better,” Hernandez said. “It’s bittersweet, but I just wanted to do my part to help the team win. It was a total team victory, and I think that’s why we’ve bene on a roll over the last few weeks.”
In a game that took more than five hours, the Knights held multi-run leads throughout the game, only to see the Cougars fight back to tie the game in the ninth. It took a pair of hits and two walks in the 11th for UCF to clinch the final series of the year.
“That was one of the crazier games that I’ve ever been a part of,” head coach Greg Lovelady said. “I’m proud of the guys for continuing to compete all night. We got punched in the mouth a lot. We did some good and bad things, but we never gave up. I’m proud of the bullpen for making some huge pitches. I’m so proud of Brandon for what he did tonight. This gives us some momentum going into the tournament. We need to win a lot of games this week. It’s good to go in with a win.”
UCF jumped out in front with a trio of runs. After Houston opened the scoring with a run in the top half, Dallas Beaver pulled the hosts level with an RBI single through the right side. Following a double by Dalton Wingo to put a pair of runners in scoring position, Chandler Robertson sliced a two-run double down the left field line.
The Knights added to their lead two innings later. Beaver started things off with an RBI single to center field, before Robertson drew a seven-pitch bases loaded walk to make it 5-1. Brandon Hernandez then lifted an RBI sacrifice fly to shallow left center two batters later. Anthony George made it 7-1 on the next at-bat with an RBI single through the left side.
Houston battled back with a four spot of their own in the fourth inning to cut the lead down to two. Kyle Kemp came out of the bullpen with two runners on and closed out the frame. The graduate transfer worked through 1 1/3 innings of scoreless ball with two strikeouts.
Matthew Mika gave the Knights an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth. After George and Ray Alejo led the inning off with a double and single, respectively, the senior beat out an inning-ending double play for an RBI fielder’s choice.
The Cougars tied the game in the top of the seventh with a trio of runs, but UCF responded with a pair of scores in the bottom half of the frame. With the bases loaded, Hernandez plated a pair of runs on a single to left center.
Jack Sinclair came on for the final 2 2/3 innings of regulation. The righty dealt three strikeouts and worked out of a jam in the eighth. The Knights took a two-run advantage into the ninth, but Houston tied it up at 10-10 in the top of the ninth due to a throwing error on a double steal attempt.
Luis Ferrer shut things down over the final two innings. The southpaw struck out a pair and gave up just one hit in his home finale. The senior did not allow a run to get the win. He stranded four runners on base, including a heart-stopping strikeout to end the 11th with the go-ahead run on third.
In the bottom of the 11th, Dallas Beaver lead off with an infield single, before Gephry Pena took over on the bases. The freshman worked his way to third after a walk by Robertson and a wild pitch. With one out and the bases loaded in scoring position, Hernandez fought off a 3-2 delivery that found a small patch of grass between the left side of the Houston infield and the left fielder, giving Pena plenty of time to come home for the winning run.
UCF (34-20, 11-13) – 11, Houston (32-22, 12-12) – 10 (11 innings)
Winning pitcher: Luis Ferrer (2-0)
Losing pitcher: Nolan Bond (1-2)
Top hitters: Dallas Beaver (4-6, 2 RBI, 2 R, 1 2B), Anthony George (3-5, 1 RBI, 1 R, 1 2B), Chandler Robertson (2-3, 3 RBI, 2 R, 2 BB), Brandon Hernandez (2-5, 4 RBI)
Top pitchers: Kyle Kemp (1.1 IP, 2 K, 0 H, 0 R), Jack Sinclair (2.2 IP, 3 K, 3 H, 2 R, 0 R), Luis Ferrer (2 IP, 2 K, 1 H, 0 R)
SENIOR KNIGHT SPECIAL
• Prior to the game, UCF honored the 10 seniors on the 2019 squad. Every senior who played in the game made a significant contribution.
• All four seniors in the lineup recorded a hit and combined to drive in eight of UCF’s 11 runs.
• Chandler Robertson had a career-high three RBI and walked twice.
• Brandon Hernandez recorded his first career four-RBI game on a 2-for-5 performance.
• Kyle Kemp and Luis Ferrer combined to strike out four batters over 3 1/3 inning of shutout ball.
• Tyler Osik and Matthew Mika chipped in with a pair of hits and three runs scored.
“The seniors were great tonight,” Lovelady continued. “They all stepped up when we needed them and made some huge contributions. It’s always fun to see that on Senior Knight.”
• Houston now leads the all-time series 30-24.
• The Knights are 4-1 in extra inning games.
• UCF has a 5-1 mark in walk-off games this year.
• The 17 hits were a season high for the Black and Gold.
• Dallas Beaver set a career high with four hits on the night.
UCF will turn to the American Athletic Conference Tournament. Starting Tuesday in Clearwater at Spectrum Field, the Knights will vie for their first tournament title in The American. The Black and Gold will open against the No. 3 seed Tulane on Tuesday night, after the conclusion of the 4 p.m. contest.
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