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Neri’s Three Homer Night Lifts UCF to Opening-Round Extra-Inning Victory over Cincinnati

by James Warnick

ARLINGTON, Texas – Danny Neri set a new Big 12 Conference tournament record with three home runs to lead the eighth-seeded UCF Knights to a 6-5 extra-inning victory over the fifth-seeded Cincinnati Bearcats in the opening round of the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship on Tuesday afternoon at Globe Life Field.

After homering in the second inning and again in the seventh, the senior Neri broke a 5-5 tie by belting out a go-ahead home run in the top of the 11th. The three-home run game marks the first of Neri’s career and UCF’s first three-homer game since Lex Boedicker hit out a trio of round trippers on May 2, 2023, against North Florida. Neri also became the first player in Big 12 Baseball Championship history to homer three times in a game.

“I just happened to be the guy lucky enough to be put in a position to take the big swings. If you would have told me at the beginning of the day, or of the year, that I was going to hold any type of home run record, I would not have believed you. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been in the right positions, gotten the right pitches, and able to put the right swings on those balls to help us win a game like this.”

With the win, UCF moves to 34-18 overall and advances to a winner's bracket contest on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. ET/7:30 p.m. CT against either the second-seeded Oklahoma State Cowboys or 10-seeded Texas Tech Red Raiders.

“I’m proud of the guys for finding a way to get the win after giving up the lead the way that we did. This was a well-played game on both sides of the ball between us and Cincinnati,” head UCF coach Rich Wallace said. “You don’t have to win your first game in a tournament like this, but it sure as heck helps. We felt like we were in control of this one until late in the ninth, and I couldn’t be prouder of Danny Neri for hitting that big home run for us.”

With the Black and Gold holding to a 5-2 lead in the last of the ninth, UC (31-24) managed to piece together a late rally to tie things up and force extra innings. With one away in the inning, the Bearcats brought the tying run to the plate by getting runners on the corners. UCF’s Kris Sosnowski responded by striking out All-Big 12 performer Josh Kross looking for the second out. After UC’s Hunter Jessee worked a walk to load the bases and represent the tying run on first base, the Knights brought in Spencer Bauer from the bullpen. Christian Mitchelle made it 5-3 with a two-out RBI single to left and Josh Hegemann followed with a two-run infield single that pinch-runner Dalton Pearson scored all the way from second on as he managed to beat out a throw from first base to home to tie the ballgame. Bauer responded, however, by drawing a groundout to send the game to extra innings.

In the top of the 10th, UCF quickly loaded the bases with one away as Andrew Williamson was hit by a pitch, Braden Calise dropped down a bunt single, and Andrew Brait worked a walk. The Bearcats managed to escape the jam, however, as Griffin Hugus drew a fielder’s choice for the second out at the plate and followed by getting a deep fly out off the bat of Matt Cedarburg to keep the game knotted up at 5-5.

UCF’s Bauer then sent it to the 11th by pitching around a one-out walk in the last of the 10th.

With two outs and nobody on base in the top of the 11th, Neri worked his magic by belting out a no-doubt line-drive home run down the rightfield line to give the Black and Gold the lead.

UCF senior Kyle Kramer then came on and pitched around a leadoff single in the last of the 11th to record his 16th career save in a Black and Gold uniform.

All-Big 12 Second Team honoree Dom Stagliano started on the mound for the Knights got off to a strong start by retiring the first eight batters he faced. He also didn’t allow a hit or a run off of him until the fourth inning. He finished by allowing just one run on three hits while striking out three over four-plus innings. Dominic Castellano then came on and tossed 2.2 innings of scoreless relief with five strikeouts. Sosnowski also pitched well in the late innings by tossing two-plus innings of solid relief. Bauer earned the win by going an inning and a third (2-1), while Kramer tossed the final inning to record his second save of the season. UC’s Carson Marsh was tagged with the loss to drop to 4-3 on the year.

Neri not only belted out a career-best three home runs, but he also had four hits for the first time in his career by going 4-for-6 with four RBIs and three runs scored. Zyska, Williamson, and Calise also had multiple hits in the contest for the Knights by recording two apiece. Michelle led Cincinnati by going 3-for-6 with two runs batted in.

The Knights got off to a quick start with a run in the first and another in the second to take an early 2-0 lead. In the top of the first, Brait worked a walk and Matt Prevesk singled. Boedicker later drove Brait home with a sacrifice fly to center to make it 1-0. Neri then led off the second inning with a deep solo homer to right to make it 2-0. Neri’s first homer of the game traveled 399 feet and came off the bat at 105 miles per hour.

UCF added another run in the third, as Matt Cedarburg singled, advanced to second on a wild pitch, and came in to score on an RBI single to left from Jack Zyska. Zyska’s RBI marked his team-leading 44th of the season.

With two outs and nobody on for Cincinnati in the bottom of the fourth, the Bearcats picked up back-to-back two-out hits from Jessee and Mitchelle to get on the scoreboard. Jessee singled and Mitchelle drove him in with a double to left to make it a 3-1 contest.

With two runners in scoring position for UC and no outs in the fifth, the All-Big 12 Honorable Mention honoree Castellano came in from the bullpen and managed to pitch out of the jam by striking out the first three batters he faced to keep it a 3-1 UCF advantage.

After another scoreless frame pitched by Castellano, UCF got a two-out triple to right from Zyska in the top of the seventh and Neri promptly followed with his second home run of the contest—a two-run shot into bullpen in right to extend the Knights’ advantage to 5-1. The two-homer game marked Neri’s first of his collegiate career and he became UCF’s first catcher with a two-home run game since Ben McCabe achieved the feat on May 13, 2023, against Cincinnati.

The Bearcats looked to bounce back by loading the bases with two outs in the last of the seventh, but Sosnowski entered the game and picked up another big strikeout for the Black and Gold by fanning Josh Kross to leave the bases loaded and send it to the eighth.

Cincinnati picked up a run in the last of the eighth on a two-out RBI double from Max Palmieri to make it 5-2, but Sosnowski responded by drawing an inning-ending flyout off the bat of Tommy O’Connor to send it to the ninth.

The Big 12 Championship continues with a full slate of games on Wednesday beginning at 10 a.m. ET/9 a.m. CT. With the 10-seeded Red Raiders knocking off the third-seeded Texas Longhorns on Tuesday night, UCF will have Wednesday off and be back in action on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. ET/7:30 p.m. CT on ESPNU against either No. 2 Oklahoma State or No. 10 Texas Tech. To view the full Big 12 Championship bracket and for more information on the tournament, visit Big12Sports.com.