Knights win a thriller; 1 win away from Super Regionals

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Mary Stevens / Valencia Voice

Joe Rogers reacts after picking up his 13th save of the season to push the Knights one game closer to Omaha.

In their 21st one-run game of the season, UCF won another thrilling game to advance to the final round of the Coral Gables Regional. Defeating Stony Brook 9-8, the Knights now control their own destiny, as they stand undefeated through two games.

“Tonight was another outstanding college baseball game,” said UCF head coach Terry Rooney. “Tonight once again was two outstanding teams competing like crazy.”

Designated hitter Jeramy Matos crushed a pitch in the sixth inning over the score board in left field, to break a five-all tie. The home run, Matos’ fifth of the season, gave UCF an 8-5 lead.

“We knew those few runs we scored early weren’t going to be enough, especially in college baseball,” said Matos.

The one and two hitters in the UCF lineup, Ronnie Richardson and Darnell Sweeney, combined to go 2-for-6 with three walks, five runs scored and three runs batted in. Sweeney’s three-run home run in the second inning gave the Knights a five run lead, a lead they would later relinquish.

Ray Hanson had a disappointing outing for the Knights, as the senior left the game in the third inning after allowing back-to-back runners to reach base. Hanson was given an early five run lead, but was tagged for three runs on five hits and was replaced by junior Chris Matulis.

Matulis extended the game for UCF, as the southpaw allowed just two runs in his first four innings of relief work, but left two runners on base when Roman Madrid entered the game in eighth inning. Both runners eventually scored, as Madrid has struggled all season long when entering the game with inherited runners.

“Look at all the different roles (Chris Matulis) has fulfilled for us this year. He’s been a starter, he was a long-reliever today, and yesterday he was a closer,” Rooney said. “I think as you see the season progressed, he has gained control of his command.”

Closer Joe Rogers shut the door on the Sea Wolves as the all-time leader in saves for UCF recorded a four-out save, his 13th of the season. Rogers, who picked up the win in yesterday’s game, allowed a runner to get to second base with just one out, but managed to get out of the jam.

SBU’s Travis Jankowski single handedly kept the Sea Wolves in the ball game. The center fielder was 2-for-4 in the game with five runs batted in and two runs scored.

“I’ve said this many times when asked about Travis, ‘he can go onto any major league diamond and play for any major league team defensively,’” said Senk. “And then you put him at the plate, and obviously his athleticism translates to his offense.

Stony Brook nearly took the lead in the eighth inning, when Willie Carmona rocketed a liner that was caught by Alex Friedrich just as he met the wall in right field.

“I heard Ronnie talking to me the whole way yelling ‘room, room, room,’ and then I heard the gravel and he said ‘fence, fence,’ so I’ve got to give credit to Ronnie for the communication there,” said Friedrich.

The score is not quite indicative of how well SBU starter Brandon McNitt pitched. Despite allowing five runs in the first two innings, McNitt retired 11 consecutive Knights following Sweeney’s home run. McNitt’s resiliency to fight back in the game allowed SBU head coach Matt Senk to rest his bullpen for tomorrow’s game against Missouri State.

“I felt great, even up to that last one. I mean just one mistake on that last one cost me a home run,” McNitt said. “I felt pretty good after those first two innings when I started to settle down. The team backed me up, and it’s a bummer. That’s just baseball.”

Stony Brook will face Missouri state Sunday at 2 p.m. The loser of that game will be sent home for the season, while the winner will get a rematch against UCF at 7 p.m. Senk announced Evan Stecko-Haley as the starter against MSU, though Rooney is not yet willing to show his cards.

“Missouri State is a very solid team. Their two starting pitchers are nothing short of terrific,” said Senk. “It’s going to be a tremendous challenge for us, but we knew going into this tournament that it would be a tremendous challenge.”