Four Seven-Inning Runs Ruin UCF's Shot at an Upset vs. No. 15 ECU


May 20, 2009

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HATTIESBURG, Miss. (UCFAthletics.com) - UCF put a scare into No. 15 East Carolina in its first game of the Conference USA Championship in Hattiesburg, Miss., but ultimately dropped a 6-3 decision Wednesday. The No. 8 seed Knights (22-34) will now meet the loser between No. 4 Tulane and No. 5 Southern Miss Thursday at 1:30 p.m. ET.

Facing the most productive offense in C-USA, senior Caleb Graham reached the seventh inning with the No. 1 seed Pirates (42-15) with a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the seventh. Yet ECU answered with four runs to ruin the Knights' shot at the upset. Graham completed his outing with 6.1 innings, giving up five runs on eight hits and striking out three.

"It was a tremendous college baseball game today," said head coach Terry Rooney. "I thought our starting pitcher Caleb Graham did a tremendous job, and East Carolina is a terrific program and there's a reason that they won the league. They capitalized on every opportunity we gave them. Our guys battled hard throughout the entire game and gave it a great effort.

"This shows a continued improvement of our team throughout the year. That's what we need to focus on; the positives with our club. Here we are, continuing to get better, continuing to improve. We had one inning where we gave up a couple runs. But if we can stay away from that and make one or two plays, then we can compete with anybody."

The first lead of the day came from the bat of freshman D.J. Hicks, who blasted his eighth homer of the year in the second inning. But it also was the Knights' 67th as a team, moving the 2009 squad into sole possession of first place in school history for the most long balls in a single-season.

It was not the only home run by the Black and Gold. Senior Kiko Vazquez pounded out his 29th of his career and the 13th of the year in the fourth inning. The senior went 1-for-2 with two walks, while senior Brandon Romans and Hicks each collected two hits.

Facing the 2009 C-USA Newcomer of the Year in right-handed starting pitcher Chris Heston, the Knights placed two aboard with two down immediately in the first inning and could not capitalize. But they returned to the dish in the second and Heston was greeted by Hicks' solo homer to right.

Graham breezed through the first two innings, yet surrendered a two-out double to Trent Whitehead in the third. Ryan Wood followed with a sure RBI single up the middle, however junior second baseman Shane Brown dove to his right to keep it from going into the outfield. Whitehead still decided to round third and head home, where catcher Beau Taylor was waiting to receive the throw from Brown and the ECU runner was easily tagged out.

Riding the defensive momentum, UCF pushed its lead to 2-0 thanks to Vazquez's solo shot in the fourth. And Heston would be done in the sixth, where Brown led off with a walk and Taylor lined a one-out double off the wall in left-center. After an intentional pass was given to Vazquez to fill the bases, ECU hoped a lefty-lefty situation would work. Kevin Brandt stepped in from the pen and promptly escaped when Hicks popped up on the infield and junior Chris Duffy grounded out to first.

ECU made the Knights pay in the home half. Whitehead got aboard by way of a single, just the Pirates' fourth hit of the game, and eventually with two down and on a 1-1 count, Stephen Batts crushed a two-run homer over the fence in left to knot it up at 2-2.

All of a sudden it was a brand new ballgame, but UCF wanted to regain control in the seventh and used the art of the sac bunt to perfection to retake the lead. With freshman Jake Huxtable leading off with a single, senior Colin Arnold laid down the bunt to enable him to touch second, and senior Eric Kallstrom came through with the RBI base hit to left.

That would be the last time the Knights would be ahead, though. In the bottom half ECU put two on and with one out Jared Avchen sent a fly ball to left center that was misplayed by the UCF outfield. It turned into a two-run double in an inning that witnessed the Pirates score four runs for a 6-3 advantage.

When UCF attempted to start its half of the eighth, the lights decided to flicker off and struggled to be turned back on. Rooney took his team down the right-field line for a team meeting during the delay, and the Knights responded by getting the first two batters on base. Once again the ECU staff worked around the jam, earning a strikeout and a double-play ball in what was UCF's last scoring chance.

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Game Notes
UCF - 22-34 Overall
No. 15 East Carolina - 42-15 Overall
WP: Kevin Brandt (8-1), 2.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 K
LP: Caleb Graham (4-3), 6.1 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 3 K
- UCF hit two homers against East Carolina, marking the most the Knights had in a conference tournament game since two vs. Jacksonville in the Atlantic Sun Tournament May 19, 2001.
- The two dingers were also the most in a UCF postseason game dating back to a pair of homers vs. Oklahoma State in the NCAA Tournament June 5, 2004.
- Shane Brown was hit by a pitch for the 16th time on the year Wednesday. That moved the junior into a tie for fourth place on the UCF single-season chart. Brown currently sits in fifth place on the career list with 33 HBP.
- Freshman Beau Taylor threw out a runner in his fourth-straight game, giving him 24 runners caught stealing in 2009.
- Caleb Graham tossed 70 of 108 pitches for strikes in his start for the Knights.