Energy was contagious Friday night at the UCF Baseball Complex as the Knights took down conference rival, the Houston Cougars, 5-2 in the first conference game of the 2017 campaign, while also ending Houston’s 11-game winning streak.
“I’m really proud of the guys, they played really well tonight,” coach Greg Lovelady said. “We did a bunch of things that I really liked. We obviously came out a little hot, and kind of got dejected with the nine punch outs in a row, but I’m really proud of the guys because we didn’t quit.”
In a heated pitching duel, senior RHP Robby Howell, redshirt junior RHP Jordan Scheftz and sophomore LHP Bryce Tucker made appearances on the mound.
“Robby did a great job, and then Scheftz and Tucker slammed the door,” Lovelady said. “Robby went out and did what he does, and does what Friday night guys do, he gave us a quality start, worked the sinker, and his change ups were good tonight. He did exactly what we expect of him.”
Howell pitched six great innings, striking out three while allowing only seven hits and two runs. He allowed a home run in the fourth, but didn’t let that, or Houston’s Seth Romero, get to him.
“I just kind of do my thing and play my game,” Howell said. “Just worried about playing against the ball and not worrying about who we are playing. I just focused in on one pitch at a time really not worrying about what happened the inning before, or the pitch before, and just staying in the groove, and trying to dominate the strike zone early.”
“You can get frustrated and you can get upset, or you can choose to forgot about it and worry about the next pitch, and I thought he did a great job,” Lovelady said. “He didn’t get rattled by it, he goes out and executes pitches a worries about one pitch at a time.”
Scheftz kept the momentum going when he came in as relief with three strikeouts to match Howell’s three and allowed zero hits and runs. Tucker came onto the mound to secure the win in the ninth, striking out two consectuvie batters.
On the mound for Houston was junior LHP Seth Romero, one of the strongest pitchers in college baseball right now. Romero had 62 strikeouts in 37.1 innings coming into the game and added 14 more to that total tonight. The Knights struggled against his brutal fastball and change ups, which allowed Romero to dock nine straight strikeouts in the first three innings of play.
“I think it’s easy to roll over and die and say ‘man, we got no shot,’ but the guys were confident, even when we struck out nine times,” Lovelady said. “The guys weren’t coming back and saying ‘we got no shot,’ they took advantage when the guy made mistakes and were able to put some hits together.”
The Knights adjusted and answered back in the fourth with some powerful hits. Three doubles in a row from junior Kyle Marsh, senior Eli Putnam and junior Logan Heiser gave the Knights the lead over the Cougars, 2-1. Senior infielder Brooks Morgan was grounded out but was able to claim a RBI and the score extended to 3-1.
“[Morgan] has that type of power, and the good thing about the wrist injury is that it has really kind of shortened his swing a little bit,” Lovelady said. “He’s known as the guy that tries to swing hard, and that wrist injury has made him try to just get the ball on the bat.”
Morgan continued to be a valuable asset when he hit his first homerun of the season. Morgan got another two RBIs with that big hit and increased UCF’s lead over Houston, 5-2.
“It was a huge home run,” Lovelady said. “It got us our momentum back, and then we go and just stomp on it and it changes the game right there.”
The Knights are scheduled to take on the Cougars again tomorrow night at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday at 1:00 p.m. as a part of the three-game series.
Taya Britten is a contributor for the Central Florida Focus. You can follow her on Twitter at @tayabritten and you can email the sports team at EvanA@centralfloridafocus.com.