UCF Knights Upset the No. 2 Owls

Senior starter Caleb Graham (Lutz, Fla.) put together his finest collegiate outing Friday, pitching 6.1 shutout innings in a 5-0 victory at No. 2 Rice. The win for the Knights (19-30, 7-12 Conference USA) marked the second time in school history they defeated a program ranked in the top two in the country, as they also defeated No. 2 LSU 6-5 on Feb. 15, 2004, in Orlando.

"It was a really important win and to come out and beat Rice, I'm still shocked about it," said Graham who limited the Owls to just eight singles. "I just went out there and tried to do what I can do, and my defense made plays when they had runners in scoring position so they really helped me out on the mound."

UCF has now taken down league-leading Rice (31-13, 13-6) at least once in each of the previous two seasons. Last year the Knights also defeated the Owls in game one of their series when they were ranked No. 4 in the nation. Meanwhile, it was the first time since a 5-0 triumph vs. No. 24 Clemson on Jan. 30, 2000, that the Black and Gold shut out a ranked opponent.

Friday's win was the fourth over a top-10 team on the road since 2000. It was highlighted by the Knights outhitting the Owls, 12-10, including two hits apiece from senior Kiko Vazquez, junior Chris Duffy and freshmen Beau Taylor, D.J. Hicks and Jake Huxtable.

Graham (3-2) completed his night by not walking a batter and striking out two, and has hurled at least 6.0 innings in each of his last three starts. Senior Kyle Sweat entered when it was 4-0 and two on in the seventh, and went on to earn his second-career save by closing out the final 2.2 frames.

"Caleb deserves so much credit, obviously that was a terrific outing by him," said head coach Terry Rooney. "He was throwing all of his pitches for strikes and throwing from a couple of different arm angles to keep them off-balance all night. These guys came ready to play. We've said it all year that this group has continued to battle and their effort has always been there every single night. We got some clutch hits when we needed them and we had tremendous performances on the mound from Caleb and Kyle.

"Rice is a great program so it's a good win for us, but every game matters down the stretch. We will enjoy this win and flip the switch at midnight. We told the guys at the end of the game that this is what the postseason is about. When you get down to the last couple of weekends of the year, you're fighting to get into the tournament and once you get there you're playing for a championship. What we need to do is to continue to position ourselves to have the opportunity to compete for a championship in Hattiesburg, Miss."

It was Taylor that sparked the UCF bats in the second inning against southpaw Taylor Wall, opening the frame with a single into left-center. Following a walk to Vazquez, Hicks smacked a RBI single down the right-field line for the first run, and Duffy added a sac fly to center.

The Knights returned for the fourth frame and yet again it was Taylor that got Wall in trouble, leading off with a double to left. Vazquez pushed him to third on a single and Taylor eventually touched home by way of a one-out base hit up the middle from Duffy.



Still working with the lead, Graham was busy confusing Rice hitters. The Owls failed to get more than one runner on base through the first five innings, and when they did threaten in the sixth, they still could not light up the scoreboard. In that stanza, Rice loaded the bases with one out and appeared to get the base hit it needed when Rick Hague lined a hard shot destined for left field. However Huxtable was in perfect position at third base to snare it for the second out, and Graham induced Craig Manuel to ground to first, leaving the runners stranded.

"That really did take all the wind out of their sails as far as having a clutch inning by getting the bases loaded with one out," admitted Graham. "Coach Rooney really stresses going pitch to pitch, so after Huxtable made that play, I still had to go back and get the last guy."

Rice attempted for a second time in the bottom of the seventh, picking up a pair of one-out singles. That forced the Knights to go to the bullpen for Sweat, who quickly ended the inning with two groundouts.

With the Owls struggling at the plate, the Knights added more in the eighth. Started up by a casual single with one away from Vazquez, it proved to be important as Hicks drove him in all the way from first by sending a double to the wall in left field. That ultimately deflated all of Rice's hopes for a comeback, as UCF's defense recorded double plays in the eighth and ninth innings to secure the upset.

Game two of the series against the Owls will get underway Saturday at 3 p.m. ET.


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