Riding a four-game winning streak, UCF came into Friday night’s weekend series opener against UConn with a whole lot of momentum. The Knights built on it in a big way, blowing out the Huskies by a score of 8-1 behind a complete game performance by senior RHP Robby Howell.
“Robby threw unbelievably well,” UCF coach Greg Lovelady said. “[We’re] really proud of him because we challenged him all week. We challenged him and he stepped to the plate and really showed out.”
Howell walked the first batter of the game on four pitches, which elicited some flashbacks to his recent outings that saw him struggle with command. However, he bounced back and stranded the runner on second, getting out of the first inning after throwing just 12 pitches.
From there, he settled in and rolled through the UConn lineup. He carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning before losing it on a leadoff double. Over nine innings, Howell allowed just four hits and three walks while striking out a career-high 11 batters. It was his second complete game of the season, with the first coming back on March 17 against Jacksonville.
“I was feeling pretty good,” Howell said. “First batter was a four-pitch walk, then I wanted to get back in the zone a little bit. We play good defense. [Senior shortstop] Brennan Bozeman made a lot of good plays, we made some good plays in the outfield. It was a good team win.”
Howell received a lot of help from his offense, especially early on. The Knights (28-11, 6-4 AAC) got on the board in the first inning when freshman Rylan Thomas doubled in two runs. Two innings later, Thomas got a rally started with another double, scoring just a few pitches later on a double by redshirt sophomore Kyle Marsh. Marsh later scored on a sacrifice fly by Bozeman.
UCF broke the game open in the fourth inning, courtesy of a couple of longballs. Senior Eli Putnam extended the lead to 6-0 with his fifth home run of the season. Two batters later, Thomas made it 8-0 with his team-leading ninth home run of the season. The homer chased UConn starting pitcher Tim Cate off the mound, who was voted as one of the preseason conference pitchers of the year.
“We just found a lot of barrels,” Lovelady said. “We did a great job getting good pitches to hit, really making him pay when he made mistakes.”
UConn (21-15, 6-4) was kept off-balance all night, unable to put together any sort of a rally.
With Howell going the distance, the UCF bullpen got the night off, which will keep them fresh for the final two games of the weekend series.
The second game of the series is set for 1 p.m. on Saturday. UCF will send senior right-hander Juan Pimentel to the mound.
Bailey Adams is a contributor for the Central Florida Focus. You can follow him on Twitter at @BaileyJAdams22 and you can email the sports team at EvanA@centralfloridafocus.com.