2023 Position Preview: Pitchers

ORLANDO – Headlined by 12 pitchers returning to the squad for the 2023 season, including two preseason all-conference selections, UCF baseball looks to be in great shape on the mound. Preseason all-conference picks junior Ben Vespi and redshirt senior Kyle Kramer lead a veteran staff, along with redshirt senior Ruddy Gomez. Juniors Chase Centala and Cameron Crain, and sophomores Julian Balzer, Dominic Castellano and Jacob Marlowe will toe the rubber for another season for the Knights. Redshirt junior Nolan Lepkoske, redshirt sophomores Zack Bennett and Nick Vieira, and redshirt freshman Kris Sosnowski are set to appear on the mound this season, after not making an appearance last season.

Nine new faces will debut on the Knights pitching staff including five transfers in Zach Chappell, Dom Stagliano, Zack Austin, Will Melby and Najer Victor, and four freshmen in Cameron Leiter, Brandon Gonsalves, Kyle Rossy and Logan O'Donnell.

With four key pitchers departing after the 2022 season, the Knights' bullpen will have to make some adjustments. Weekend starters Hunter Patteson and Connor Staine were selected in the 2022 MLB Draft, both taken in the fifth round. Patteson and Staine were selected with consecutive picks, as Patteson was the 145th pick to the Kansas City Royals and Staine was selected with pick No. 146 to the Colorado Rockies. David Litchfield and Will Saxton, key members of the Knights' bullpen, are also gone.

Vespi was named a Preseason American Athletic All-Conference selection following an impressive sophomore campaign, in which he was named a first team all-conference selection. Forced to take on a larger role due to injuries last season, he made his first start as a Knight after appearing only in relief as a freshman and led the team with 25 appearances and 65.2 innings pitched. He posted the second sub 4.00 ERA of his career, at a 3.56 mark and fanned a team-leading 66 batters. His best performance came in a conference win against Tulane, where he pitched a season-high seven innings, striking out seven and allowing only two hits and an earned run.

Kramer was a steady force out of the bullpen for the Knights, notching a team-leading six saves over his 23 appearances in relief, 12 of which were as a closer. He didn't allow an earned run in 15 of his outings, and in nine of those he didn't give up a hit. In his 39 innings, Kramer struck out 50 and held opposing batters to a .217 average. Named a Preseason American Athletic All-Conference selection ahead of this year, he will continue to have a significant role in relief efforts.

Gomez made his mark as a consistent arm for UCF with 21 appearances in relief. He recorded more than a strikeout per inning, fanning 41 batters in his 38 innings of work, and held opposing batters to a .227 average while giving up only five extra base hits. Boasting a 5-0 win-loss record, Gomez earned his first win as a Knight in his only start during the 2022 campaign. He brings a strong, experienced presence to the Knights locker room and will take on a greater role in 2023.

Crain had an impressive first season with the Knights in 2022, making 10 starts. He didn't allow a run in 11 of his 22 appearances and did not surrender a hit in five games. Over 45.1 innings, he recorded 50 punchouts and limited opposing batters to a .219 average. His season was highlighted by a five-strikeout, no-hit performance at North Florida over four innings of work, earning one of his two wins on the season.

Centala was another steady presence out of the bullpen, making 20 of his 23 appearances in relief. His season was headlined by a five-inning, one-hit performance against No. 2 Ole Miss where he notched six strikeouts and did not allow a run in UCF's 12-inninng shutout win.

Three sophomores will bring their experience back to the Knights bullpen. Marlowe returns following a 15-appearance freshman season where he pitched 27 innings, recording 22 strikeouts and posting a 3.67 ERA—one of the top-three ERAs among the returners. Castellano looks to expand upon his 2022 numbers after 17 appearances in relief totaling 17.2 innings in which he notched 19 strikeouts. He met his season-high three strikeout mark twice, both as a closer, at South Florida and against UNC Greensboro. Balzer pitched 7.1 innings out of the bullpen in his freshman season, fanning 11 batters over his nine appearances.

Three Knights will make their return after taking a redshirt year during the 2022 season. Bennett was dubbed a closer in 2021, as he threw 40 strikeouts over his 36.1 innings out of the bullpen during his freshman campaign. Vieira had an impressive freshman season in relief with the third-most appearances among UCF freshmen with 13, posting a 1.62 ERA over 16.2 innings of work and totaling nine strikeouts. Lepkoske made seven relief appearances during the 2021 season as a redshirt freshman, fanning five batters over his five innings pitched.

Sosnowski returns to the Knights roster, also missing last season due to injury, and looks to make his debut with the Knights as a redshirt freshman.

Five transfers join the team and look to add a well-rounded group of starters and bullpen arms to the Knights staff.

Stagliano was a consistent arm as both a starter and relief option for Stetson, earning a 5-0 record with two saves in his lone season with the Hatters. Over his 18 appearances, three of those as starts, he threw 53.1 innings with 55 strikeouts, recording a 3.21 ERA and walking only 12 of the 222 batters he faced.

Victor transfers as a junior following two seasons at Florida Gulf Coast where he posted a 4.58 ERA with 69 strikeouts in 57 innings. In his sophomore season, he limited opposing batters to a .198 average and allowed only 12 earned runs in 37.1 innings of work.

Chappell arrives at UCF after four years with North Florida, where he was a starter, reliever and pinch hitter. He comes to the Knights with just shy of 100 innings pitched and brings experience and leadership to the Knights younger bullpen.

Austin joins the Knights after two years with Jefferson University where he was a two-way player. As a pitcher, he totaled 45 innings over 13 appearances and 12 starts, accumulating 74 strikeouts.

Melby comes to UCF as a redshirt sophomore, following his 2022 season with Triton College. He recorded a 2.13 ERA and notched 12 strikeouts in as many innings, allowing only six hits and never surrendering an extra base hit.

A quartet of freshmen join the pitching staff, spearheaded by Leiter, the Shore Conference Player of the Year. The New Jersey product was a standout his senior season with Central Regional, posting an impressive 0.89 ERA over 47 innings of work, recording 90 strikeouts and allowing only 21 hits. He was named one of the top 350 incoming freshmen by Perfect Game.

Rossy, Gonsalves and O'Donnell, round out the newcomers looking to draw from their high school experience to make an immediate impact on the mound.
Knights baseball begins its 50th campaign in the season opener against the Siena Saints at 6 p.m. on Feb. 17 at John Euliano Park. This series will mark the 10th time the Knights open their season against the Saints. Opening weekend will continue with matchups at 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18 and 1 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 19.