Baseball to Welcome Oklahoma State to Town for Inaugural Big 12 Home Series

by James Warnick

ORLANDO – Fresh off a midweek win over Stetson, the UCF baseball team will welcome Oklahoma State to town for its inaugural Big 12 Conference home series.

The three-game series will run Friday to Sunday at John Euliano Park. Friday and Saturday’s games will begin at 6 p.m., while Sunday’s finale is set for 1 p.m. All three games of the series will air live on Big 12 Now on ESPN+ and live stats will be available by visiting ucf.statbroadcast.com. Saturday and Sunday's games will also be on the radio on 96.9 The Game.

The Knights will enter the series with a 10-4 overall record and an 0-3 start in Big 12 Conference play. After dropping a trio of games in UCF’s first-ever Big 12 series last weekend at Oklahoma, the Black and Gold responded with a dominant 7-1 victory over in-state foe Stetson on Wednesday. UCF is currently receiving votes for the most recent NCBWA top 25 poll.

“The intensity of last weekend’s series made it feel like playoff baseball. We had a chance to win one of them and weren’t that far off early in the game, but we let it get away,” head coach Rich Wallace said. “We’re looking forward to playing in front of our home crowd this weekend and coming out ready to go on Friday night.”

In Wednesday’s win over the Hatters, Wiley Hartley struck out six and allowed just one run on two hits over 5.2 innings while a trio of Knights blasted out home runs to lead the Black and Gold to the victory. After allowing a run in the fourth, Hartley settled down and had a stretch where he retired seven straight batters. In his first collegiate start, the Knight redshirt junior posted career-highs in both strikeouts (six) and length of outing (5.2 innings).

After Hartley’s stellar start, Kyle Kramer, Najer Victor and Spencer Bauer came on and pitched the final 3.1 innings. The three combined to allow just one hit and no runs, as the Knight pitching staff limited Stetson to just three hits on the evening.

Jack Zyska, Matt Prevesk and Danny Neri all belted out home runs against Stetson as the Black and Gold tallied a season-high three homers. Tied at 1-1 in the fourth, Zyska hit out a solo shot for his 20th career round tripper to give the Knights the lead. Prevesk then followed with a two-run homer in the fifth for his second home run of the season, and Neri hit out his first round tripper as a Knight in the eighth. Andrew Sundean also added an RBI double for the Black and Gold in the contest.

Zyska paced UCF in the game by going 2-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored while Prevesk followed by going 1-for-4 with two RBIs and two runs scored. Lex Boedicker had a two-hit game and Neri went 1-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored. Hartley earned his first victory as a Knight to improve to 1-1 on the mound on the year.

The outfielder Prevesk paces the Black and Gold on the season with a .368 batting average. He also has four doubles, two homers, 12 RBIs and 11 runs scored. Zyska, who will enter the weekend on a five-game hitting streak, is next with a .340 clip, three doubles, two homers, 12 runs scored and nine RBIs. Boedicker and Sundean are hitting .317 and .302, respectively, and Andrew Estrella leads the way in the power numbers with four homers, five doubles and 18 RBIs. Senior right-hander Ben Vespi is the squad’s top starting pitcher, as he’ll enter with a 1-0 record, 3.26 ERA and 16 strikeouts over 19.1 innings. Southpaw Dominic Castellano is the top arm from the bullpen as he holds a 2-0 win-loss mark, 2.31 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 11.2 innings, while senior Chase Centala enters as one of the nation’s leading closers with four saves—to rank fifth in the country in that category.

Scheduled Starting Rotation for the Series

Senior RHP Vespi will get the ball for the Black and Gold for the fifth straight time on Friday. He’ll enter leading the starting staff with a 1-0 record, 3.26 ERA and a team-leading 16 strikeouts in 19.1 innings. Junior right-hander Dom Stagliano will then start on Saturday (0-1, 4.15 ERA) while senior RHP Cade Boxrucker will make his first weekend start on Sunday (1-0, 7.20 ERA). Southpaw Sam Garcia (2-1, 3.66 ERA) will take the mound for the Cowboys in Friday’s opener. Righty Brian Holiday (1-1, 2.05 ERA) is scheduled to start on Saturday while fellow RHP Janzen Keisel (2-1, 2.55 ERA) will get the nod on Sunday.

About Oklahoma State

OSU will enter the weekend with an 11-6 overall record and currently receiving votes for this week’s ESPN/USA Today Top 25 Coaches Poll. This weekend will mark Oklahoma State’s first Big 12 series of the season. The Cowboys have won four of their last five after taking two of three from Mercer over the weekend as well as midweek non-conference wins over Oklahoma and Utah Tech. The Pokes won a share of the Big 12 title last season (40-21, 15-9 Big 12) and were picked to finish third in the league this year. OSU has made 10 consecutive NCAA Regional appearances.

Aidan Meola holds a team-best .388 batting average, while Preseason All-Big 12 selection Carson Benge is batting .368 with seven doubles, three homers, one triple and 19 RBIs. Kollin Ritchie (.354), Avery Ortiz (.348) and Lane Forsythe (.340) are all batting above .340 on the year, while Colin Brueggemann leads the way in home runs with four. Holiday paces the starting staff with a 2.05 ERA and 26.1 innings pitched over four starts, while Garcia leads the team in strikeouts with 27 over 19.2 innings of work. Gabe Davis leads the pen with a 1-0 record and 1.06 ERA over 17.0 relief innings.

The Cowboys are coached by Josh Holliday who is in his 12th year as the head man Oklahoma State. Holliday, is the brother of seven-time MLB All-Star Matt Holliday, has led the Pokes to two Big 12 regular season titles and two more league tournament championships. He also led OSU to the 2016 College World Series and is an alum of Oklahoma State, as he played for the Cowboys from 1996-99.

All-Time Series History

Friday’s opener will mark the fifth all-time meeting between UCF and OSU. The Knights will enter play holding to a 3-1 all-time advantage. All four previous meetings have taken place in neutral-site action in the state of Florida. UCF and OSU first split two games at the Olive Garden Classic in Kissimmee, Florida, in 1997 and met two more times at the 2004 Tallahassee Regional and the Knights pulled out both of those games by scores of 7-3 and 12-9 in 10 innings.

On Deck

Following this weekend’s series, the Knights will cap a five-game homestand by welcoming Florida Atlantic to town on Tuesday at 6 p.m. Following the in-state midweek contest, UCF will then return to the road for a three-game league series at Kansas next weekend (March 22-24).   

UCF All-Time in Conference Opening Home Series

In home opening series in its first season of competition in a new conference, UCF will enter play with an 11-4 record. The Knights last swept Cincinnati as a new member of The American in 2014. The Knights also swept Arkansas State in 1991 as new members of the American South and took two of three from both South Alabama in their first year in the Sun Belt in 1992 and the College of Charleston in the Atlantic Sun in 1993. UCF’s lone home series loss in its first year in a new league came in 2006 as it dropped two of three to East Carolina in Conference USA action.