Knights Pull Out Wild Back and Forth Battle over Alabama, 8-7

With the win, the third-seeded Knights will advance on in the winner's bracket to face the host and No. 8 national seed Florida State on Saturday at 5 p.m. on ESPN+.

by James Warnick

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Andrew Sundean delivered a go-ahead pinch-hit RBI single with two outs in the top of the ninth and Kris Sosnowski closed things out in the bottom of the frame to lead UCF to an 8-7 victory over Alabama in the opening round of the NCAA Tallahassee Regional on Friday night at Mike Martin Field at Dick Howser Stadium.

With the score deadlocked at 7-7 in a back-and-forth battle in the ninth, senior Jack Zyska led off the top of the inning with a walk. Fellow senior Danny Neri then moved him into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt. Following a flyout, Sundean entered the game as a pinch hitter and promptly ripped a 1-1 pitch into left-centerfield to drive in Zyska and give the Knights the late lead.

In the last of the ninth, the UCF sophomore closer Sosnowski remained on the mound for his second inning of work. Sosnowski quickly retired the first two batters he faced via flyout. All-SEC First Team performer Justin Lebron then picked up a two-out single to bring the winning run to the plate. Sosnowski responded, however, by drawing a game-ending groundout to first—that included a diving stop from UCF first baseman Lex Boedicker—to complete the victory.

With the win, the third-seeded Knights (36-19) move on in the winner’s bracket and will face the host and No. 8 national seed Florida State Seminoles (43-15) on Saturday at 5 p.m. With the setback, the second-seeded Crimson Tide (33-23) will head to an elimination game against the fourth-seeded Stetson Hatters (40-21) on Saturday at noon.

“That was an outstanding college baseball game from the first pitch. It was full of emotion, and we are fortunate to be on the right side of it,” head UCF coach Rich Wallace said. “In those biggest moments of the game when we needed some key at-bats, the team delivered tonight. Both Jack (Zyska) and Cedar (Matt Cedarburg) had some of those for us, as well as Sunny (Andrew Sundean) there in the ninth. You can’t script any more pressure than he (Sundean) had to face, and to deliver in that moment after sitting over there for three hours, says a lot about him.”

The Knights struck first with a two-out rally in the top of the first inning to jump out to an early 2-0 lead. Following back-to-back two-out walks from Cedarburg and Boedicker, Zyska pulled a double down the leftfield line to score both Cedarburg and Boedicker and give the Black and Gold the early two-run advantage.

With two on and two out in the bottom the first, the Crimson Tide responded with a three-run home run to right field off the bat of Kade Snell to take a 3-2 lead. UCF didn’t waste time bouncing back, however, as freshman Andrew Williamson pulled out a two-run homer to right in the top of the second to give the Knights a 4-3 advantage. The homer marked Williamson’s fifth of the season and UCF’s first from a freshman in an NCAA Tournament game since June 2, 2017, when Rylan Thomas belted out a solo shot in the second inning of the 2017 Tallahassee Regional against Auburn.

With UCF starter Dom Stagliano having settled down and retired six straight batters, the Crimson Tide got a two-out solo home run from Lebron that just got over the wall in left in the bottom of the third to tie the ballgame at 4-4. Alabama then took a 5-4 advantage in the fourth on a solo home run from TJ McCants.

The Black and Gold regained the lead in the top of the fifth thanks to a pair of RBI doubles from seniors Cedarburg and Zyska. With Matt Prevesk on first after a leadoff walk, Cedarburg continued his hot hitting in the month of May with an RBI double to left center to score Prevesk all the way from first to tie the game at 5-5. Following a groundout, Zyska then ripped his second RBI double of the game down the leftfield line to bring in Cedarburg and give the Knights the lead.

With Alabama threatening with a pair of runners in scoring position and two away in the bottom of the fifth, UCF went to the bullpen and lefty Dominic Castellano managed to pitch out of the jam by drawing an inning-ending groundout. The All-Big 12 Honorable Mention honoree Castellano pitched well for the Knights in relief by retiring the first six batters he faced. With two outs and two on for the Crimson Tide in the last of the seventh, Lebron recorded a game-tying RBI single to left to make it 6-6.

The Black and Gold then got a pair of runners aboard with one away in the top of the eighth. Senior Mikey Kluska led off the frame with a walk and Prevesk later was hit by a pitch to put two on with one out. The two advanced to second and third on a wild pitch, and the senior Cedarburg drove in the go-ahead run with an RBI groundout deep in the hole at short to score Kluska and give the Knights a 7-6 advantage.

Alabama again tied things up in the last of the eighth, however, on a two-out RBI bloop single just over the outstretched glove of Kluska into shallow center from Will Hodo to score the pinch runner Max Grant and make it 7-7.

UCF then won the game in the ninth behind the clutch pinch-hit RBI single from Sundean and strong pitching in the bottom of the frame from Sosnowski.

Braden Calise had a strong performance at the plate for the Black and Gold by going career-best 4-for-5 with a run scored. The four-hit game marked UCF’s first in an NCAA Regional since June 4, 2011, when both DJ Hicks and Jonathan Griffin had four hits against Bethune-Cookman. Zyska, who entered the game with six career NCAA Tournament RBIs, added three more by going 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles and a run scored on the night. Fellow senior Cedarburg and the freshman Williamson each drove in a pair of runs by going 1-for-4 with two RBIs apiece. Lebron paced the Crimson Tide by going 4-for-5 with two runs batted in.

After both Stagliano and Castellano gave UCF solid outings for the majority of the contest on the mound, Sosnowski earned the win in the late innings by tossing two innings of scoreless relief to move to 1-0 on the season. Alabama’s Alton Davis II was tagged with the loss to drop to 4-2.

The ballgame marked UCF’s first NCAA Tournament contest since June 3, 2017, when it faced Florida State in Tallahassee. It also marked the Knights’ first NCAA Regional win since June 2, 2012, when it defeated Stony Brook at the 2012 Coral Gables Regional.

The Knights will continue the 2024 NCAA Tallahassee Regional by facing the No. 8 national seeded Seminoles on Saturday at 5 p.m. The game will air live on ESPN+ and will also be on the radio at 96.9 The Game. The Black and Gold went a perfect 2-0 against FSU in both meetings a season ago--the most recent meetings between the in-state foes. Following Saturday’s contest, UCF will play again on Sunday at either noon or 6 p.m.