Clearwater, Fla. – The UCF baseball team fell just short of the American Athletic Conference tournament championship on Sunday, falling 8-7 to the No. 6 seed South Florida in Clearwater, Fla.
The Bulls jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the first thanks to a 2-run home run and extended their lead in the fourth with four more runs, on the backs of four base knocks. Trailing 6-0 heading into the bottom of the second, the Black and Gold had their work cut out for them.
Knights got on the board in the third, as Josh Crouch launched his fourth homer of the AAC Championship. USF promptly answered in the fourth with a solo shot of their own.
UCF began to chip away in the fifth, kickstarted by a Josh Crouch walk to start the inning. Freshman Alex Freeland came up with a double to score Crouch, and Freeland later came around on a fielder's choice to bring the score to 6-3 at the end of the fifth.
South Florida tacked on another insurance run in the sixth, taking advantage of a hit batter to start the inning.
The Knights turned it on in the sixth, as John Montes and Gephry got the inning started reaching base after being hit by a pitch and picking up a base knock respectively. Jordan Rathbone earned his lone RBI of the contest on a single to drive in Montes and was followed by a Josh Crouch walk.
Alex Freeland struck again, this time with the bases loaded, rifling a shot down the left line to plate two runs. Before the end of the frame, Nick Romano grounded out but earned the RBI to pull within one, 8-7.
Relief pitcher Zack Bennett entered the game in the top of the seventh, tasked with keeping the Bulls within reach and did just that. Bennett faced the minimum through three innings of work, sitting South Florida down in order in the last innings of the contest.
Unfortunately, South Florida matched Bennnett's efforts, and despite putting men in scoring position in the late innings, the USF bullpen kept the Knights off the board to retain the one-run advantage.
Winning Pitcher: Logan Lyle (4-1)
Losing Pitcher: AJ Jones (4-4)
Top Pitcher: Zack Bennett (3.0 IP, 0 ER, 4 K)
Top Hitters: Alex Freeland (2-4, 2 2B, 3 RBI), John Montes (3-4, 2B), Nick Romano (2-4, 2B, 2 RBI)
UCF's American Athletic Conference Championship Schedule
Tuesday, May 25 | ESPN+
Game 1: No. 5 UCF 14, No. 4 Cincinnati 10
Thursday, May 27 | ESPN+
Game 7: No. 5 UCF 17, No. 8 Memphis 1 (7 innings)
Saturday, May 29 | ESPN+
Game 11: No. 1 East Carolina 5, No. 5 UCF 2
Game 13: No. 5 UCF 2, No. 1 East Carolina 1 (East Carolina eliminated)
Sunday, May 30
Game 15: South Florida 8, UCF 7
- The last time the Knights played for a conference tournament championship was in 2002, when UCF won the Atlantic Sun Tournament Championship
- It was also the first time in program history the UCF baseball team advanced to the American Athletic Conference Championship game.
- Despite the outcome, the Knights outhit South Florida, 13 hits to nine.
- Freeland's three-RBI game was his ninth multi-RBI game of the year, and his third of the AAC tournament.
- Alex Freeland and Josh Crouch led the Knights at the plate throughout the tournament, each hitting over a .400 clip; Freeland finished the tournament hitting .438 and Crouch finished with a .412 average.
- Josh Crouch's four home runs through the week marks the most of any Knight in American Athletic Conference tournament history
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