ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Freshman JoMarcos Woods (Orlando, Fla./The First Academy) gave No. 14 UCF an extra reason to celebrate Easter Sunday by delivering a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth to defeat UAB, 8-7. Moving to 26-7 on the year and 7-2 in Conference USA, the Knights claimed the series over the Blazers (19-14, 3-6) to mark their fifth-straight C-USA series win dating back to 2011.
"When they switched left fielders (during the at-bat) it actually made me feel a little bit better because it slowed the game down," Woods said. "It was 1-1 and they threw me a fastball and I just let it go. He threw it again, I was waiting for it and I just hit it."
The game reached the bottom of the ninth knotted at seven thanks to UCF's defense in the top of the frame. With two down and UAB's Tyler Mims at first, Ryan Ussery sent a double off the wall in left-center. Center fielder Ronnie Richardson chased it down and fired a rocket to cutoff man Darnell Sweeney. In one quick motion, Sweeney caught the relay, turned and delivered a strike to catcher Ryan Breen who dropped the tag down on Mims to end the inning.
"What an inning," head coach Terry Rooney said of the ninth frame. "To summarize the entire weekend, that was the first time we lost on a Friday night all year, and obviously we didn't play very well. But we challenged the guys from a toughness standpoint and they rallied together. As tough as Friday night was, it's the exact opposite now. They have so much to be proud of. I couldn't be prouder of a group of 34 guys putting it all together for the last two days."
Overall, the Knights have won 10-straight weekend series since 2011, including all eight this year. At the plate Sunday, Chris Taladay, Ryan Breen and Travis Shreve led the way with three hits apiece. Richardson tied a school record by being hit by a pitch three times Sunday, moving his season total to 20 which ranks third in the UCF record book (Shane Brown owns the record with 22 in 2010 while Kiko Vazquez was plunked 21 times in 2009).
Getting Sunday underway, a one-out walk issued by Ray Hanson helped ignite the Blazers in the first inning, as four-straight singles led to three runs. UAB kept its momentum going in the second inning when Ivan De Jesus crushed a two-out solo homer to left for a 4-0 advantage.
UCF went to the pen in the top of the third and got a scoreless inning out of Bryan Brown. That helped set up the Knights' first scoring threat of the game and the home team capitalized in a huge way. The rally opened with a double to left-center off the bat of Shreve vs. righty Michael Busby, and Richardson was hit by a pitch. On the third pitch of the at-bat, Sweeney put UCF on the board with a RBI to left.
Keeping the third inning moving along, Busby intentionally walked mid-season All-American D.J. Hicks to load the bases, and Taladay made him pay with a two-strike, two-run single up the middle. Quickly eliminating the deficit, Alex Friedrich jumped on the first pitch he saw, sending it to left for a RBI single. Now a tie ballgame, Ryan Breen provided UCF with a 5-4 lead on a base hit and Woods capped it off with a sacrifice fly to center.
Following a four pitch inning in the fourth by Brown, the Black and Gold made it 7-4 in the home half when Hicks drove in Shreve by way of a sacrifice fly. That proved to be a key moment as Jeff Schalk blasted a two-run homer in the top of the fifth to make it 7-6 UCF.
The Knights went searching for some insurance and in the seventh picked up a leadoff infield single by Breen against reliever Dylan Munger. A sac bunt laid down by Woods pushed Breen to second, however he would be stranded in scoring position. That ended up being costly since Todd Wilkinson started the eighth with a solo homer to tie it back up at 7-7.
UCF placed another runner at second with one out in the eighth on Richardson's third HBP and a Sweeney sacrifice bunt, yet it was unable to retake the lead. UAB appeared destined to score in the top of the ninth before UCF's dazzling defensive play eliminated Mims at home, setting up even more dramatics in the bottom of the ninth.
Already leading UCF with 11 doubles on the season, Friedrich greeted reliever Ryan Nance with a double down the left-field line, and Breen pushed him to third with a bloop single to right. Woods stepped in the box and worked the count to 1-1 vs. the right-hander before UAB switched left fielders. After Nance found the strike zone to make it 1-2, Woods drilled a single that landed inside the right-field line, bringing home Friedrich and causing a massive on-field party by the Knights.
UCF will stay at home for midweek action when it hosts Florida A&M Tuesday and Bethune-Cookman Wednesday. Both contests get underway at 6:30 p.m.
-For his career, Ronnie Richardson has been hit by a pitch 50 times to tie Ryan Bono (2003-06) for second on the UCF all-time list. Shane Brown holds that record with 55 from 2007-10.
-Richardson's three HBP Sunday tied Kiko Vazquez's single-game record, as he also was plunked three times vs. Wagner March 11, 2006.
-Meanwhile, Richardson's play in the ninth inning resulted in his sixth outfield assist of the season.
-Closer Joe Rogers got the win by pitching a scoreless ninth, and he improved his record to 4-0.
-Alex Friedrich recorded his team-leading 12th double of the year in the ninth inning.
-The Knights finished with 14 hits, two sac bunts and two sac flies on the day.
-The last walk-off win was when Darnell Sweeney had a RBI single to defeat Boston College Feb. 26, 2012.
-UCF will be on the road next weekend when it travels to Hattiesburg to face Southern Miss April 13-15.