by Matt Sefcovic (@MattSefcovic)
After starting the season 1-3 against unranked opponents, Central Florida bounced back in impressive fashion to win the series against the #1 team in the country, taking two of three games from the Rebels. The Knights were giving up over 11 runs per game in their first four outings of the season after losing their opening series to Florida Atlantic and getting blanked by Stetson in a midweek game. Ole Miss could not have started the season on a higher note, notching three wins against top 12 teams (TCU, Texas Tech, and Texas) in the State Farm College Baseball Showdown in Arlington last weekend. Unfortunately for Rebels fans, the same team did not show up against Central Florida.
Colton Gordon started things off Friday night with 7 strong innings for the Knights, allowing just one run on the way to a 3-2 victory over the Rebels. It appeared that the Knights were going to clinch the series, leading 5-3 going into the bottom of the 9th inning of game two, but the Rebels had other plans. Tim Elko singled down the right field line to score Kevin Graham in walk-off fashion to force the rubber match. Although he did not get the win, Gunnar Hoglund threw 7 strong innings for the Rebels, allowing just two runs with 10 strikeouts in game two. Momentum seemed to be in favor of Ole Miss going into game three, but it was all Central Florida, putting up at least one run in five of the first seven innings of the game, sealing the series with a 7-2 victory.
After giving up 38 runs in the series against Florida Atlantic, the Knights pitching staff was much improved this weekend, only allowing 10 runs against the Rebels in the entire series, one of which was unearned. The starting rotation for Central Florida set the tone for the weekend, keeping the Rebels bats at bay during the majority of the three game series. The starting pitchers for the Knights combined for 18 innings, recorded 23 K’s, 16 hits, and allowed just 5 earned runs. It was a heck of a weekend for Coach Lovelady’s staff considering how the season started for the Knights.
At the dish, UCF was led by Ben McCabe and Freshman All-American Alex Freeland. McCabe was 4 for 12 on the weekend, with two home runs and led the way with 5 RBI. Freeland was 6 for 11, raising his season average to .500 and continued to flash the leather up the middle. This is a name you need to put a star next to; he is going to be stud for the next few years for the Knights.
The Rebels combined for 24 hits during the series, but never could string anything together to gain any momentum against the Knights pitching staff. They only had two innings all weekend in which they scored more than one run, one of which came during the three-run ninth inning walk-off in game two. If you take that inning away, the Rebels would have been on the wrong end of a series sweep. Sophomore catcher Hayden Dunhurst led the way for Ole Miss, batting 5 for 11 with a HR. Trey LaFleur, Hayden Leatherwood, and Justin Bench also homered for the Rebels, but it just was not enough to overcome the Knights upset bid. This was the first series we have seen Cael Baker this year as he missed the State Farm College Baseball Showdown due to COVID. Baker, one of the most intriguing players in the SEC, was 2 for 8 with 6 strikeouts. This has always been Baker’s achilles heel, which he must get corrected in order to stay in the lineup for Coach Bianco.
As we head into the third weekend of the college baseball season, we have a new #1 team yet again. Florida opened the season with a series loss against Miami followed by the Knights upset of Ole Miss. How will the new #1 fair atop the rankings? We will soon find out.