Comeback Bid Comes Up Short

ORLANDO, Fla. ( - The UCF baseball team nearly completed a three-run comeback in the bottom of the ninth against Rice on Saturday night at John Euliano Park, but the Knights' rally came up one run short, as the Owls held on for a 5-4 win.

No. 22 UCF (1-1) began its comeback bid with three straight two-out hits from Brandon Hernandez, Matthew Mika and Ray Alejo. The Black and Gold pulled a run back when Hernandez flew in from second on Alejo's base knock to center field.

Dallas Beaver drew a walk to load the bases, before Rylan Thomas took a base on balls and brought in Mika from third. Then, Max Wood stepped to the plate and lined a ball that appeared destined for the gap in left field, only for Rice (2-0) shortstop Ford Proctor to jump and pluck out of midair to end the more than four-hour contest.

"Joe Sheridan pitched a heck of a game," head coach Greg Lovelady said. "Thad Ward and Eric Hepple pitched great. Offensively, we didn't make adjustments. By the time we did, we couldn't get the big hits. I'm proud of the guys that they came back in that last inning. Two outs and nobody on, for us to score two runs and load the bases was a great job of getting the next guy up. I kept telling the guys they didn't need to be the hero. They just needed to get the next guy up. I'm proud of them for that."

Fans were treated to a duel between UCF starting pitcher Joe Sheridan and Rice hurler Matt Canterino early on. Neither side was able to pick up a hit through the opening three innings. Sheridan received some support from his defense with double plays in the fourth and fifth innings. The sophomore lefty tossed six shutout innings with four strikeouts and scattered three hits in his season debut.

"It was great to watch him work," Lovelady continued. "He got a lot of ground balls by pitching down in the zone. He made the pitches that we needed. He went out, did his job and trusted his defense."

UCF broke through the deadlock in the bottom of the sixth. Alejo drew a walk and followed that up with back-to-back steals to reach third. Thomas lifted a one-out delivery from Rice reliever Roel Garcia deep center field for an RBI sacrifice fly. Two batters later, Tyler Osik floated an RBI single to shallow left to give the Knights a two-run cushion.

Rice then struck for five unanswered runs, starting in the seventh inning with an RBI single from first baseman Chance Sarchet. An inning later, catcher Justin Collins hit a two-run home run to give the Owls the lead. The visitors tacked on a pair of runs in the ninth on an RBI single and a sac fly.

The Knights will wrap up Opening Weekend tomorrow at 2 p.m. against Samford. Junior Jordan Spicer will make his UCF debut. The Bulldogs will throw freshman Sam Strickland after dropping their first two games of the weekend.

No. 22 UCF (1-1) - 4, Rice (2-0) - 5
Winning pitcher: Jackson Parthasarthy (1-0)
Losing pitcher: Eric Hepple (0-1)
Top Performers: Joe Sheridan (6 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 4 K), Tyler Osik (2-4, 1 RBI), Brandon Hernandez (2-4, 1 R, 1 SB)

* Sheridan's six shutout innings marked the second longest start of his career without surrendering a run. (7.2 innings at ECU, 4/15/17)
* Alejo's three stolen bases were the most for a Knight since Dylan Moore swiped a trio against Fairfield on March 13, 2015.
* Hernandez and Osik accounted for four of the six UCF hits.
* Hernandez now has hits in his first two games as a Knight.
* Jaylyn Whitehead and Griffin Bernardo made their debuts for UCF.
* Saturday was Joe Sheridan's first start without a decision of his career.
* The Knights committed four errors on the night. Two of the Owls' five runs were unearned.

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