ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - The No. 19 UCF baseball team was unable to complete a ninth-inning rally as No. 19 Miami (14-3) came away with the 3-2 victory Wednesday night at the UCF baseball complex. The Knights (13-5) will take on Harvard in their final out-of-conference weekend series beginning Friday at 6:30 p.m.
UCF got three hits from junior Ronnie Richardson, five innings of four-hit ball by starting pitcher Ray Hanson and some solid bullpen work from Roman Madrid and Joe Rogers. But Miami took advantage of two unearned runs and got out of several jams by inducing three inning-ending double plays. The game ended with the potential tying run on second base and Nick Carrillo was called out on a bang-bang play at first base.
"All you can do is put yourself in position with that tying or winning run at the plate in the last inning and we did that," said UCF head coach Terry Rooney, whose squad has dropped two one-run games to Florida State and another to Boston College. "The guys fought hard and battled like crazy. Miami won because they played better fundamental baseball than us. We have to get better at that, plain and simple."
A raucous crowd of 2,298 - the seventh largest in school history - was into the game from start to finish and came alive following a near-fracas following the collision at home plate between Miami star catcher Peter O'Brien and UCF's Ryan Breen.
UCF entered the game with one of the nation's most prolific offenses (131 runs), but managed just eight hits. All-American D.J. Hicks saw his 11-game hitting streak come to an end and UCF could never get the big hit to break the game open after taking a 2-1 lead in the fifth inning.
``We need to keep hitting. We're having defensive miscues when we don't need them and we need to hit better,'' Rooney said. ``I'm going to fix it and address it. We're not a team that should be scoring two runs on back-to-back days. It's not for a lack of effort, but we need to hit better.''
Tempers flared in the top of the fourth inning when O'Brien, Miami's star catcher, was ejected for barreling over Breen on a play at the plate. O'Brien, a third-round draft pick last year by the Colorado Rockies, opened the inning with a double and tried to score on a single by Rony Rodriguez. But O'Brien was caught in a rundown and attempted to run over Breen.
Both benches emptied and the players had to be separated as tension escalated. After the umpires met with coaches from the two teams, O'Brien was ejected from the game. O'Brien, who entered the game hitting .362 with six home runs and 20 RBI, had a first-inning RBI and the double in the fourth.
``I had the ball and was waiting for him and that's a big kid. The rule in college baseball is that you have to slide and he didn't slide,'' Breen said.
``He was trying to knock the ball out and be safe and you're not allowed to do that. You have to slide.''
A very similar play unfolded on the very next at bat as Brad Fieger singled to right field and Rodriguez had intentions of scoring from second base. But Alex Friedrich's throw was right on the mark and Rodriguez was out at home by three steps.
``We work every day on coming in and getting the ball aggressively and if we throw through our (cut-off) good things will happen,'' Friedrich said. ``On the first one (D.J.) Hicks cut it off and we had the runner hung out to dry. And on the second one, I just let it rip and a good thing happened.''
Friedrich had another defensive gem in the eighth inning when he dove to catch a sinking liner. He eventually doubled off the runner at first, but Michael Broad scored before the third out for the winning run. The run was allowed because the play at first base wasn't a force out, and proved to be the game-winner.
UCF grabbed the lead in the fifth inning with some fundamental baseball and some clutch hitting. Friedrich led off with a single and stole his fourth base of the season. He scored on a Carrillo single and Richardson followed three batters later with a two-out triple down the right field line to give the Knights a 2-1 lead.
Said Rooney: ``Ronnie is clutch. We put him (down in the order) for a game to just let him mentally clear it a little. He had some big hits for us tonight. Ronnie is a clutch player and he'll continue to be clutch.''
But that 2-1 lead would be short-lived as Miami leadoff hitter Tyler Palmer homered to open the sixth inning against reliever Roman Madrid. He took over for Hanson, who continued his solid work this season by giving up just four hits over five innings.
Breen said the Knights must get their bats going in the coming days to live up to the team's full potential. Hit like this team is capable and Breen said UCF will soon find a way to win the one-run games from early in the season.
``We've got to compete and step in the box and know that we're better than the pitcher,'' Breen said. ``We have to have that mindset that we're going to get a hit and get the job done. We're swinging at bad pitches and taking good ones. It's just about us getting the job done now and good things will happen for us.''