UCF’s Regional Run Comes to Close in Tallahassee Regional Final to No. 8 FSU

by James Warnick

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The No. 8 national seed Florida State Seminoles used a nine-run fifth inning to defeat the third-seeded UCF Knights by a score of 12-4 in the NCAA Tallahassee Regional finals on Sunday night at Mike Martin Field at Dick Howser Stadium.

The Knights conclude their 2024 season with a 37-21 overall record and a 2-2 outing at the NCAA Tallahassee Regional. The host and top-seeded Seminoles (45-15) have advanced on to play in a NCAA Super Regional next week with the victory.

“Congratulations to Florida State. That’s an absolute complete team. They outplayed us two games in a row, and they deserve everything that they’re getting,” head UCF coach Rich Wallace said. “I’m just proud of the way our guys competed, not only this weekend, but all year. They did everything we asked them to do. An unbelievable group to coach. I’m so proud I got a chance to coach guys like this again. This will be a group I’ll remember forever.”

With Lex Boedicker on first base following a one-out walk in the top of the first inning, senior captain Jack Zyska continued his stellar weekend by belting out a booming two-run home run to left to give the Knights an early 2-0 lead. The home run marked his second two-run shot of the day, as he previously hit out the go-ahead homer in the seventh inning of an elimination game against Stetson. It also marked Zyska’s fifth career NCAA postseason round tripper, as he hit three while playing for Notre Dame in 2022.

Freshman Tyler Kozera got off to a strong start in his first career start on the mound by tossing a trio of scoreless innings. He stranded a runner in the first and drew an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play in the second. The Seminoles threatened in the third by getting runners on the corners with two outs, but Kozera managed to get out of it by getting All-ACC First Team selection James Tibbs III to fly out to deep center field. Kozera finished going a season-long 3.1 innings and allowed just one hit and no runs while striking out one.

With the Black and Gold having gone to the bullpen with two on and one out in the fourth, senior Najer Victor retired the first two batters he faced to strand a pair and keep it a 2-0 UCF advantage. The Knights then threatened in the top of the fifth by loading the bases with two outs. With FSU having gone to the bullpen, Florida State reliever Connor Hults drew an inning-ending groundout to keep it a two-run contest.

The Seminoles then took advantage of a UCF defensive miscue in the last of the fifth, as Cam Smith followed an error by hitting out a game-tying two-run home run to right field to deadlock the score. After a walk and a single, FSU then took the lead on a two-run double down the leftfield line from Jaime Ferrer. With two outs and the bases loaded, Jaxson West drove in two more with a two-run single and Max Williams capped the crooked inning with a three-run homer to straight away center field to give the Seminoles a 9-2 lead. Of the nine runs scored by FSU in the frame, six were unearned.

The Knights got a run back in the sixth on a pinch-hit RBI single from senior Anthony Calabro to bring in Braden Calise and make it 9-3. Junior designated hitter Andrew Sundean then hit out a solo home run in the seventh to cut the score to 9-4. The home run marked Sundean’s second career homer against Florida State.  

FSU tacked on three more runs in the last of the seventh to extend their lead to 12-4.

After a scoreless eighth, UCF looked to rally in the ninth as senior Andrew Brait reached on an error and Zyska followed with a double down the line to put a pair of runners in scoring position. But FSU reliever Joe Charles retired the next two batters he faced to end the ballgame.

Zyska led the Knights offensively in the contest by going 2-for-4 with a double, a homer, two runs batted in, and a run scored. He capped his stellar career by being named to the NCAA Tallahassee Regional All-Regional Team. Over four games on the weekend, Zyska hit an impressive .600 (9-for-15) with four doubles, two homers, three runs scored, and eight runs batted in. He also tallied a 1.934 OPS for the regional. Calise too had an outstanding regional for UCF by hitting .533 on the weekend (8-for-15) with a double, a home run, an RBI, and four runs scored.

In the final games of their collegiate careers, seniors Danny Neri and Anthony Calabro each tallied a hit on the night, while Zyska had the pair of extra-base knocks. Fellow senior position players Brait, Matt Cedarburg, and Keano Suarez also took part in the contest.

A total of seven Knight pitchers appeared on the mound in the ballgame, which included seniors Victor, Kyle Kramer, Chase Centala, Cameron Crain, and Cade Boxrucker. Boxrucker highlighted the group by tossing an inning and a third of scoreless relief, while Kramer set a couple of program records with his appearance in the fifth inning. The appearance marked Kramer’s 34th of the season which tied the single-season appearance record with Jason Schlutt from the 1993 season. His 34th appearance also marked a single-season relief appearance program record. Kramer also tallied 84 career appearances on the mound over three seasons in a Black and Gold uniform, which is good enough to make him the all-time program leader in career relief appearances. It also ranks him fourth in total career appearances. Jason Arnold (1998-01) leads that category with 98, while Trent Thompson (2013-17) and Brian Brooks (2004-07) are tied for second.

“All of the guys that wore this uniform before (this team) can be proud of the way this team went about everything they did–the way they competed, their grit, the way they fought through some struggles in the middle of the year, and played their way to the NCAA Tournament. They played their way into tonight, but we just ran out of gas. Just a special, special group," Wallace concluded.

In Wallace’s first season at the helm in Orlando, the Knights tallied their most wins (37) and highest winning percentage (.638) since 2017. He also led the Black and Gold to a 16-16 record against Big 12 Conference foes in the program’s first season in the league as well as reach the Big 12 Championship semifinals. Wallace capped his first year as head coach by leading the Knights to their first NCAA Regional appearance since 2017 as well as the program’s first time reaching the regional finals since 2012 at the 2012 Coral Gables Regional.

Overall, the postseason appearance marked the Knights’ 13th NCAA Regional appearance.

The contest marked UCF’s second of the day, as it previously defeated the No. 4 seed Stetson, 5-2, in an elimination game earlier in the day.