After a big win over No. 15 Virginia to open the season on Friday night, No. 22 UCF failed to avoid a letdown on Saturday against Rice, losing a late lead before eventually falling 5-4.
“We didn’t deserve to win the game,” Knights coach Greg Lovelady said. “We played absolutely horrible defense. It really cost us. Big plays that could’ve got us out of innings changes how we played over the last couple of innings.”
UCF (1-1, 0-0 AAC) finished the night with four errors. Rice’s first run came in the seventh inning after a booted double play ball, getting the Owls (2-0, 0-0 C-USA) within one run just minutes after the Knights took a 2-0 lead. Poor defensive play held UCF back late, but early on it was the offense that failed to get going. Tyler Osik picked up the team’s first hit in the fifth inning, but the Knights didn’t score until the sixth, when they scored two runs on just one hit.
“We didn’t make adjustments,” Lovelady said. “By the time we finally did start to make adjustments, we just couldn’t get the big hits.”
Despite the offensive struggles and poor defense, UCF was in position to come away with its second win of the season. Left-hander Joe Sheridan made his first start of the season, tossing six scoreless innings while allowing just three hits. He struck out four and exited after a 37-minute bottom of the sixth inning.
“That was my first outing since May of last year, so it was fun to get back out there,” Sheridan said. “It was a good battle to be in week one and kind of see where I was at.”
The Knights carried a 2-1 lead into the eighth inning, but couldn’t hold on. Justin Collins gave the Owls a 3-2 lead with a two-run home run off of Eric Hepple.
Rice added two runs in the ninth to extend its lead to 5-2 and seemed poised to close out the game after two quick outs in the home half of the ninth. However, UCF refused to go quietly. Brandon Hernandez, Matthew Mika and Ray Alejo delivered three straight singles with two outs before walks by Dallas Beaver and Rylan Thomas closed the gap to 5-4.
Max Wood then almost became the hero, but Rice shortstop Ford Proctor made a leaping catch to close out the game.
“I’m proud of the guys,” Lovelady said. “They did come back in that last inning and really fight. We just need to see more fight like that one through nine [innings].”
UCF will wrap up its weekend on Sunday against Samford (0-2, 0-0 Southern). Right-handed pitcher Jordan Spicer will make his first start as a Knight, squaring off with Sam Strickland. First pitch is set for 2 p.m.