UCF Kicks Off C-USA Schedule with 7-2 Win at No. 23 Rice


March 26, 2011

Final Stats

UCF vs. Rice
March 25, 2011
From Houston, Texas
Team R H E
UCF 7 11 0
Rice 2 7 3

WP: Lively (5-0), 5.2 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 8 BB, 0 K
LP: Kubitza (2-3), 6.1 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 5 BB, 4 K
SV: Rogers (4), 1.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K

Game-Changing Moment
Clinging to a 3-2 lead in the top of the eighth, D.J. Hicks was up with two outs, no one on and two strikes. But the DH delivered a double into the right-field corner and eventually scored on a RBI single to left off the bat of Erik Hempe for a key insurance run.

Three Stars
First: UCF D.J. Hicks, 3-for-4, RBI, 2 R, 2B, 1.0 IP, 1 K
Second: UCF Bullpen, 3.1 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K
Third: UCF CF Ronnie Richardson, 2-for-4, GW RBI

By Brian Ormiston

Box Score in PDF Format

HOUSTON, Texas (UCFAthletics.com) - Freshman Ben Lively improved to 5-0 while D.J. Hicks went 3-for-4 and tossed a scoreless inning on the mound as UCF took down No. 23 Rice, 7-2, Friday in Houston. It was the Conference USA opener for both teams as the Knights stretched their record to 17-5 overall, and it also was their second victory over a ranked team this year (12-4 vs. No. 29 Alabama Feb. 27).

"It was a great win. We battled hard all night," said head coach Terry Rooney. "At the end of the Miami game Tuesday I told our guys that the majority of our games from now on will be close, hard-fought games. From this point on everyone we play in C-USA and in non-conference play are good teams. So we've got to be better from innings one to nine, and tonight we were."

It was a pair of freshmen starting pitchers that battled it out, and Lively, making his first Friday-night start, struggled with command but always kept his composure. The righty finished with 5.2 innings of work, allowing two runs on four hits but walked eight. In all five of his starts this year, Lively has gone at least 5.0 innings. Meanwhile, Rice (15-10, 0-1) right-hander Austin Kubitza lasted 6.1 innings, surrendering three runs on seven hits and walking five.

"Ben was the epitome of our team," said Rooney. "He really battled tonight but obviously needs to reduce his walks to continue to be successful. The positive of it was that he's such a competitor that he worked out of jams, but the margin of error will keep decreasing."

Giving Lively run support, Hicks reached base four times and his two-out double in the eighth led to a key run that put UCF on top 4-2 before the Knights put it away with three in the ninth. He also was the first reliever after Lively as he enabled the visitors to hold the lead the rest of the way.

"Whenever you can get a conference win on a Friday night is huge. It sets the tone for the entire weekend," said Hicks. "I was fortune enough to get a couple hits and put us in position to win. Tonight I was little more locked in since it was the conference opener with a good crowd."

The Knights appeared to take the lead in the top of the first but was on the wrong end of a call at the plate. With Ronnie Richardson at second and two outs, Chris Taladay hit an infield single to second where Michael Ratterree had trouble fielding it. Richardson did not hesitate and raced around third, and Ratterree's throw was high for catcher Craig Manuel. The UCF center fielder slid in under the high tag only to have the home-plate umpire rule that Manuel got him on the helmet.

In the home half, Lively was in immediate danger as the Owls greeted him with two singles, a sac bunt and an intentional walk. With the bases juiced and one out, Ratterree hit a soft line drive that third baseman Derek Luciano easily snagged and stepped on third to double up Keenan Cook.

Each team continued to get runners on base and through the top of the fourth, five double plays had already been turned. However in the bottom of the fourth, Lively issued three walks to load them up with one out and then added a wild pitch to allow the first run to score. The Owls completed the inning with two runs without a hit to take a 2-0 lead.

Trailing by a deuce, UCF mounted a rally in the fifth as Hicks and Beau Taylor ripped singles into right to get things started. After a mound visit, Erik Hempe attempted to lay down a sac yet it was put down so perfectly that third baseman Anthony Rendon threw it away to first to allow a run to score. Chris Taladay then followed with a sacrifice fly to even things up and Travis Shreve was plunked to place runners at the corners. With still just one out, Richardson stroked a RBI single into center, and even though UCF had its first lead, it left two runners aboard.

Rice did the same in the sixth, though, as Lively left with two runners on and one out, giving way to Hicks who promptly struck out Michael Aquino to keep the one-run advantage.

The Black and Gold finally made it 4-2 in the eighth and the run came with no one on and two outs. Hicks fell behind to Tyler Duffey, 1-2, battled back and eventually sent a double into the right-field corner. Following an intentional walk to Taylor, Hempe dropped a RBI single into left to bring around Hicks.

Having scored four unanswered runs, UCF wanted more in the ninth where Shreve lined a double inside the third-base bag and touched third on a wild pitch with no outs. Two batters later, Sweeney drew a one-out walk and took off on a 2-2 pitch from Doug Simmons. The move worked as shortstop Derek Hamilton left his position and Taladay sent a grounder where Hamilton was previously located to drive in Shreve.

The home fans would start to leave later in the ninth when UCF kept scoring. Sweeney would race towards home when pinch-runner Alex Friedrich took off from first and Manuel faked a throw to second and fired it to relief pitcher Tyler Spurlin instead. Spurlin was not expecting it and the throw went into center field. In came Rice's seventh pitcher, Holt McNair, who surrendered a hard RBI single to right by Hicks to cap off UCF's three-run frame.

Closer Joe Rogers, who entered in the eighth, easily got through his outing to rack up his fourth save of 2011 and secure the victory for the Knights. It also was the 12th save of his career to move him into a tie for fifth on the UCF all-time list.

UCF and Rice get back to work with game two Saturday at 3 p.m. ET while the series finale is set for Sunday at 2 p.m. ET.

Game Notes
UCF - 17-5 Overall, 1-0 C-USA
No. 23 Rice - 15-10 Overall, 0-1 C-USA
-Ben Lively's eight walks in the game set a UCF record by an individual pitcher.
-With a 5-0 record, Lively is the first Knight since Ray Rodriguez and Darren Newlin (2005) to start a season 5-0.
-The three runs in the ninth were the most UCF had scored in that inning all season.
-Relief pitchers D.J. Hicks, Nick Cicio and Joe Rogers combined to toss the final 3.1 innings, giving up no runs on three hits and striking out two.
-The win was the third all-time for UCF on Rice's home field.
-UCF did not commit an error for the 13th time.
-Game time was 3:22, marking the longest game for UCF this year.
-UCF turned a season-high four double plays.