UCF trailed 3-0 with two outs and nobody aboard in the top of the ninth vs. Memphis at AutoZone Park Sunday. Only one out away from defeat, the Knights put together an unforgettable rally, as senior Kiko Vazquez, junior Chris Duffy and senior Colin Arnold all homered to hand the Black and Gold (10-21, 2-7 Conference USA) an incredible 5-3 win over the Tigers (11-18, 3-6).
"I was very pleased these players were finally able to taste the rewards of how hard they have been working and practicing. Those guys stepped up and got some big hits in the clutch for us," said head coach Terry Rooney. "Momentum is what feeds college baseball, probably more so than a lot of sports because it's so much energy-driven. Today we had a little bit of momentum and were able to capitalize on it."
When Vazquez dug in to face Memphis reliever Duke Williams in the ninth, the Knights knew they had to at least get two men on base just to get the tying run to the dish, and still not record an out in the process. Facing a 2-0 pitch, the senior got the green light and hammered it over the left-center berm for a dinger that traveled well over 400 feet.
"Their starter had some good stuff and he just beat us," said Vazquez. "As soon as he left we knew we were going to win. They brought in their righties and we took advantage of our opportunities. In my at-bat, coach told me to take until I get a strike but the guy fell behind 2-0. As soon as he gave me the green light I knew he would come at me with a fastball."
But the Knights remained behind by two runs. Serving as both the designated hitter and winning pitcher in relief, freshman D.J. Hicks drew a four-pitch walk, forcing Memphis to go to the pen for Matt Yokley. The righty also struggled, going 3-1 on the left-handed hitting Duffy, who drove in five runs the night before. Yet Duffy was not thinking about a walk. On the next offering, the left fielder sent the game-tying, two-run blast into the last row of the seats in right field.
Even hungrier for more, pinch-hitter Chadd Hartman lined a single to left to keep the rally going. With the bottom of the ninth and maybe even extra-innings staring UCF in the face, Arnold made sure the comeback would be complete, lifting a 2-2 Yokley pitch into the right-field stands.
"I just got a mistake with two strikes, he hung a slider and I happened to get it," said Arnold. "This was huge, we kind of felt the monkey coming off our back after Duffy tied it up. (I've never experience something like this) with two outs in the ninth inning."
It was the first time since a 9-2 win at No. 23 Tulane April 15, 2006, that UCF crushed three homers in the same inning. Ensuring the Knights of the win, Hicks surrendered just a two-out single in the Tigers' last at-bat to pick up his second collegiate victory.
By claiming the series against Memphis, 2-1, UCF won its first Conference USA road series since its very first C-USA matchup at Marshall in 2006.
Both offenses sputtered along through the first eight innings in a game dominated by starting pitching. Overshadowed by the ninth-inning long balls, UCF senior Kyle Sweat held the Tigers hitless through the first four stanzas and finished with a career-high nine strikeouts in 7.0 innings of work, while Memphis lefty Brach Davis scattered five hits in 6.2 frames against the Knights.
Sweat's only four hits he surrendered all came in the fifth inning when Memphis tallied three runs. He sat down the Tigers in order in five of the seven innings he was on the mound. Combined with Hicks' two innings of relief, UCF only gave up six hits, matching the lowest amount by a Knights' opponent this year.
"Back-to-back great starting pitching by Jaager Good yesterday and Kyle Sweat today," said Rooney. "That's what we need, our older guys who are in the rotation to go deep into games and give us a chance. Another gutsy performance from Kyle, who has been working hard all week."
Along with the Knights' dynamic use of force in the ninth inning and Sweat's marvelous performance on the mound, UCF's two major hitting streaks kept chugging along. Junior Shane Brown pushed his to 21 games in a streak that is just five shy of tying the school's all-time record, while Arnold's homer preserved his streak as it moved to 13.
UCF's five-game road trip continues with a pair of midweek games Tuesday at North Florida at Wednesday at Florida. The Knights will then be home next weekend against Tulane starting Friday at 6:30 p.m.
Amazing Victory for Knights Baseball
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