UCF’s Inaugural Big 12 Championship Run Comes to a Close with Semifinal Setback to OSU

by James Warnick

ARLINGTON, Texas – The eighth-seeded UCF baseball team had its inaugural Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship run come to a close with a 10-1 setback to the second-seeded Oklahoma State Cowboys in the tournament’s single-elimination semifinal round on Friday night at Globe Life Field.

The Knights (35-19) conclude their first Big 12 Championship appearance with a 2-1 record with wins over this same 17th-ranked OSU Cowboy squad as well as the fifth-seeded Cincinnati Bearcats.

“Oklahoma State is a good team and (Brian) Holiday is an unbelievable pitcher. They also played great defense and made us pay for every mistake we made on the mound,” head UCF coach Rich Wallace said. “Our guys tried to hang in there and I was proud of the way a couple of our younger pitchers performed late. But we just couldn’t overcome those eight early runs.

The Cowboys (39-17) got off to a quick start with a pair of runs in the first and two more in the second to jump out to an early 4-0 advantage. All-Big 12 Second Team honoree Nolan Schubart hit out a two-run homer to right in the first and Avery Ortiz and Zach Ehrhard followed with RBI extra-base hits in the second.

Despite allowing the early runs, UCF starter Wiley Hartley did a nice job of limiting the OSU hitters by striking out five Cowboys over the first three innings.

With UCF having gone to the bullpen, the Pokes managed to push across four more runs in the fourth to extend their lead to 8-0. Ortiz and first team all-conference performer Carson Benge both had RBIs, while Schubart capped the scoring in the frame with a two-run single to right with two outs in the frame.

The Knights got a two-out hit from Matt Cedarburg in the sixth and Danny Neri continued to swing a hot bat in the tournament by driving him home with an RBI double down the rightfield line to put the Black and Gold on the board.

Kris Sosnowski did a nice job in relief for the Knights in the middle innings by retiring the side in order in both the fifth and sixth innings.

OSU put the game away late, however, by tacking on a run in the last of the seventh on a solo home run from Benge to make it 9-1. Benge then added an RBI single in the eighth to make it 10-1.  

After an inning and a third of solid relief from freshman Tyler Kozera, Anthony Calabro picked up a pinch-hit ground-rule double to deep center with one out in the ninth. Calabro was stranded, however, as All-Big 12 First Team performer Brian Holiday went the distance on the mound to record the complete-game victory.

OSU’s Holiday scattered eight hits on the night and allowed just one run while striking out seven and not walking a batter to move to 6-3 on the season. UCF’s Hartley was tagged with the loss to drop to 3-3.

Benge led Oklahoma State at the plate by going 3-for-5 with a homer, three runs batted in, and two runs scored, while Schubart drove in a game-high four on a 2-for-5 outing. Sophomore Braden Calise and the senior Cedarburg collected two-hits apiece to lead the Black and Gold.

UCF concludes its inaugural trip to the Big 12 Championship with a 2-1 record with wins over the five-seed Cincinnati in the opening round on Tuesday and this same second-seeded OSU Cowboy club in the quarterfinals on Thursday. Both wins came in extra innings, as the Black and Gold topped the Bearcats behind a single-game Big 12 Tournament record three home runs from Neri on Tuesday, 6-5, in 11 innings, and OSU by a score of 7-6 in 10 innings on Thursday.

For the tournament, the senior Neri led the Knights by hitting an even .500 (5-for-10) with three home runs, a double, four runs scored, and five runs batted in. 

The tournament championship game will be held Saturday at 7 p.m. ET/6 p.m. CT on ESPNU. OSU will face rival and top-seed Oklahoma.

The Knights will now await a possible at-large bid to participate in the NCAA Tournament. As of Friday, UCF had the third highest RPI of any Big 12 program with the nation’s 32nd RPI and sits at 16 games over .500 at 35-19 for the third-best winning percentage in the league (.648). The NCAA Baseball Selection Show will be held Monday at noon ET on ESPN2/ESPNU. The Black and Gold last made an NCAA appearance in 2017 when they took part in the Tallahassee Regional.