UCF Advances to Semifinal Round with 7-6 Extra-Inning Victory Over No. 17 Oklahoma State

by James Warnick

ARLINGTON, Texas – Senior Matt Cedarburg belted out a two-run home run in the seventh inning and AJ Nessler drove in the go-ahead run in the 10th inning to lead the eighth-seeded UCF Knights to a 7-6 extra-inning victory over the No. 2 seed Oklahoma State late on Thursday night at the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship at Globe Life Field.

With the game deadlocked at 6-6 in the 10th inning and approaching 1 a.m. local time, Andrew Brait led off the frame with a single up the middle. Matt Prevesk then bunted him into scoring position and Lex Boedicker was later intentionally walked to put two on with two away. The sophomore Nessler then entered the game as a pinch hitter and delivered the hit of the night with a clutch RBI single to left center to score Brait and give the Black and Gold the lead.

After tossing a scoreless ninth inning, reliever Dominic Castellano stayed on and retired the Cowboys in order in the last of the 10th, including back-to-back strikeouts of the final two batters to secure the victory.

With the win, UCF (35-18) advances to the Big 12 Championship semifinal round and will play either the 17th-ranked OSU Cowboys or the 10-seed Texas Tech on Friday at 8:30 p.m. ET/7:30 p.m. CT.

“That was a well-played hard-fought game. I’m proud of the guys for finding a way to win,” head UCF coach Rich Wallace said. “It was kind a chess match in those late innings. The opportunity presented itself and AJ stepped up big for us when it mattered most with that clutch hit.”   

The Pokes (37-17) put up four early runs in the bottom of the first to jump out to a 4-0 lead. All-Big 12 First Team honoree Carson Benge drove in the first run with an RBI single up the middle and Chad Meola drove in the second one with an RBI double. OSU then added a run on a sacrifice fly and another on a safety squeeze bunt to take the early advantage.

The Black and Gold didn’t waste time responding, however, as they scored four runs of their own in the top of the second to tie the game at 4-4. With OSU starter Brennan Phillips struggling with his command, the Knights took advantage by loading the bases via a hit batter and back-to-back walks. Danny Neri and Andrew Williamson came in to score the first runs of the game on wild pitches to make it 4-2. Mikey Kluska then drove in Braden Calise with a hustle double to right, and Lex Boedicker tied things up with a two-out RBI single.  

On the mound, UCF starter Ben Vespi settled down and went through a stretch where he retired nine straight batters. The Cowboys threatened in the last of the fourth by loading the bases with two away in the frame, but Vespi pitched out of it thanks to a nice play from Neri by picking off the runner at third to keep the game all knotted up at 4-4.

OSU’s Benge then led off the last of the fifth with a solo home run that was just out of reach of the outstretched glove of UCF’s Williamson in right-center to give the Pokes a 5-4 lead.

With the Knights’ having gone to the bullpen in the sixth, senior Najer Victor came on and retired the side in order with a strikeout, strikeout, flyout to send it to the seventh.

With one out and nobody on in the top of the seventh, Boedicker got things going for the Black and Gold with his third hit of the game—a one-out single to right. The senior Cedarburg followed by hitting a booming go-ahead two-run home run to left to give UCF a 6-5 lead. The homer marked Cedarburg’s fifth of the season.

The Cowboys got a pair of runners into scoring position with two away in the last of the seventh, but UCF reliever Spencer Bauer struck out All-Big 12 Second Team performer Colin Brueggemann swinging to send it to the eighth.

OSU managed to tie things up in the last of the eighth thanks to a one-out RBI double to left from Tyler Wulfert that scored Lane Forsythe from first to deadlock the score at 6-6. With Wulfert on second marking the go-ahead run, Kyle Kramer then came on from the ‘pen and retired the first two batters he faced to send it to the ninth.  

The Knights got a leadoff single from Cedarburg in the top of the ninth to put the go-ahead run on the base paths. Neri then bunted the pinch runner Anthony Calabro into scoring position and Williamson was intentionally walked to put runners on first and second with one away. Calabro then moved over to third on a fly out. With two outs and Andrew Sundean pinch hitting, OSU’s Gabe Davis managed to escape the jam by drawing an inning-ending pop out.

The southpaw Castellano entered the game and mowed down the Pokes in order in the bottom of the ninth. UCF was able to manufacture what proved to be the winning run via Nessler’s clutch RBI single in the top of 10th, and Castellano followed by retiring the side in order again in the last of the 10th to secure the victory.

Castellano moved to 6-0 on the season by picking up the win in relief after tossing two perfect innings with three strikeouts. In all, a total of five Knight pitchers performed well on the evening in Vespi, Victor, Bauer, Kramer, and Castellano. OSU’s Gabe Davis was tagged with the loss to drop to 1-4 on the year.

Boedicker led UCF at the plate by going 3-for-5 with an RBI, a run scored, and a walk. Brait, Mikey Kluska, and Cedarburg all added two hits apiece, which included Cedarburg’s two-run homer in the seventh. As a team, the Knights outhit the Pokes 14 to seven in the contest.

The win marked the Black and Gold’s second extra-inning victory of the tournament. UCF previously defeated the five-seed Cincinnati in Tuesday’s opening round by a score of 6-5 in 11 innings. The senior catcher Neri set a Big 12 Championship record with three home runs in that game, which included the go-ahead shot in the top of the 11th inning.

At 2-0 on the week, UCF now heads to a single-elimination semifinal contest against either the two-seed Oklahoma State or the 10-seed Texas Tech at 8:30 p.m. ET/7:30 p.m. CT on Big 12 Now on ESPN+. The winner of Friday’s semifinal will move on to a winner-take-all championship on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET/6 p.m. CT on ESPNU.