Knights Rally to Top Stetson, Will Face No. 8 Florida State in Regional Final

by James Warnick

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Andrew Sundean tied it in the seventh with a pinch-hit RBI double and Jack Zyska followed with a go-ahead two-run home run to lead the third-seeded UCF Knights to a 5-2 come-from-behind victory over the No. 4 seed Stetson in an NCAA Tallahassee Regional elimination game on Sunday afternoon at Mike Martin Field at Dick Howser Stadium.

With the victory, the Knights (37-20) advance to the regional championship finals against the host and No. 8 national seed Florida State (44-15) on Sunday at 6 p.m. With the Seminoles entering without a loss on the weekend, UCF will have to beat them twice to advance to the program’s first NCAA Super Regional.

“That was a fun baseball game. Pitched well on both sides. We just hung in there and this guy (Jack Zyska) had two good swings. Braden Calise gave us a homer to give a little separation," head UCF coach Rich Wallace said. "We tried to run Dominic Castelano back out there after the rain delay, and Sos (Kris Sosnowski) then came in and did what he does.”

Trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the seventh, the senior captain Andrew Brait reached on a one-out single up the middle. Following a strikeout and a pitching change, the junior slugger Sundean entered the game and delivered his second clutch pinch-hit outing of the weekend by driving an 0-1 pitch to the left-center gap to score Brait all the way from first with a game-tying RBI double. Three pitches later, the senior Zyska belted out a booming go-ahead two-run home run to left to give the Knights their first lead of the game at 4-2. The homer marked Zyska’s fourth career round tripper in NCAA postseason play.

Stetson (41-22) led off the top of the eighth with a single from Isaiah Barkett, but UCF reliever Dominic Castellano bounced back by retiring the next batter with a flyout and the Black and Gold defense followed by turning a nice 6-4-3 double play to send it to the bottom of the eighth. The Knights added to their lead in the last of the eighth thanks to a line-drive solo leadoff homer to left off the bat of Calise to extend the advantage to 5-2. Calise’s home run banged off the scoreboard in left field and marked just his second homer of the season.

Zyska led UCF offensively by going a perfect 3-for-3 with a homer, two runs batted in, a run scored, and a walk. He is now 7-for-11 in the regional with three doubles, a homer, and six RBIs. Calise was next in the game by going 3-for-4 with double, a homer, two runs scored, and an RBI. Calise too has had an impressive weekend, as he’s currently 8-for-12 with a double and a homer.

Despite taking a no decision in the ballgame, starter Wiley Hartley pitched well for the Knight by allowing just two runs on four hits while striking out five over 6.0 innings of work. The 6.0 innings matches a career high for the junior right-hander. Reliever Castellano earned the win in relief to move to a perfect 7-0 on the season. Castellano tossed 2.0 innings of scoreless relief over the seventh and eighth frames with a strikeout. The seven wins marks the most of any UCF pitcher since the 2017 season when both Robby Howell and Joe Sheridan had 10 wins. Kris Sosnowski then came on and recorded his sixth save of the season in the ninth.  

Early in the game, Stetson picked up a run in the top of the first to take an early 1-0 lead. With two on and one out, Gio Cueto brought in Kyle Jones via a sacrifice fly to right to give the Hatters the early advantage.

After UCF starter Wiley Hartley struck out the side in the top of the second, the Knights picked up a run in the bottom of the frame to tie things up. Braden Calise continued his strong hitting as of late with a leadoff double. He moved over to third on a bunt single from Matt Prevesk and came in to score on a groundout off the bat of Andrew Williamson.

The Hatters picked up a solo home run from Kyle Jones down the leftfield line in the third to take a 2-1 advantage. Despite allowing the homer, Hartley continued to pitch well for the Knights as he pitched around a two-out hit in the fourth and retired Stetson in order in the fifth.

In the bottom of the fifth, Mikey Kluska led off the frame with a sharp single to center. Andrew Brait moved him to second with a sacrifice bunt and Kluska advanced to third on a deep flyout of the bat of Lex Boedicker. With Kluska leading from third and two away, Stetson reliever Nick Durgin recorded an inning-ending strikeout to keep it a 2-1 game.

After Hartley retired the side in order for the second straight inning in the sixth, the Black and Gold got two runners aboard in the last of the sixth. The senior Jack Zyska led off the frame with his second hit of the game with a single and Calise later reached on an infield hit to put two on with one out. Stetson’s Durgin managed to pitch out of it, however, with a flyout and a nice play by Landon Moran down the line at first to keep it a 2-1 score.

UCF reliever Castellano then came on in the top of seventh and retired three of the four batters he faced in the frame to send it to the bottom of the seventh. He again retired the Hatters quickly in the top of the eighth.

After a near 90-minute rain delay, Sosnowski came on for the Knights with a runner aboard in the ninth. The Hatters then worked a walk with nobody out to put two on and bring the tying run to the plate. Sosnowski responded, however, by retiring the next three batters he faced which included a pair of strikeouts to seal the victory for the Black and Gold.

The contest marked UCF’s first all-time meeting against Stetson in NCAA postseason play.

With a 2-1 record on the weekend, the Knights will now take on the top-seeded Seminoles in the regional championship finals on Sunday at 6 p.m. on ESPN+. UCF fell to No. 8 FSU on Saturday night by a score of 5-2. The Black and Gold will need to defeat the Seminoles twice to win the regional and advance to the program’s inaugural NCAA Super Regional.