PEARL, Miss. – Catcher Chris Taladay led a 14-hit Knights’ attack by going 3-for-5 with a home run, a triple and five RBI as second-seeded UCF rolled past No. 6 seed East Carolina, 11-1, in an eight-inning ballgame in day three of the 2012 Conference USA Baseball Championship on Friday at Trustmark Park.
The Knights jumped on the Pirates early and often, plating one run in the first, three in both the second and fourth innings, and another two in the third to set the tone for the day. East Carolina reliever Dylan Dickens came on in the fifth and kept UCF off the scoreboard over the next two innings, but the Knights tacked on two more runs off of him in the top of the eighth to halt the game via the league’s 10-run rule.
With the win, UCF improved to 42-15 and will close out pod play on Saturday when it takes on Tulane at 12 noon (ET). The Knights’ victory also helped UAB – which defeated Tulane 6-3 earlier in the day – secure its spot in Sunday’s title game where the Blazers will face Memphis. First pitch for that ballgame is slated for 2 p.m. (ET) and will be televised nationally on CBS Sports Network. East Carolina, meanwhile, fell to 34-22-1 on the year and 0-2 in pod play. The Pirates, who are in a must-win situation to keep their NCAA Regional hopes alive, will look to close out their stint in the championship tournament on a high note on Saturday when they square off against UAB at 4 p.m.
While the offense was piling up the hits and runs, UCF got a solid six innings from right-hander Ben Lively. Lively (9-2) earned the victory after allowing one run on six hits and three walks while striking out two. His nine victories are the most by a Knights’ pitcher since Tim Bascom had 10 in 2005 when UCF was still a member of the Atlantic Sun Conference. East Carolina tallied eight hits on the day and drew four walks, but wound up stranding 10 runners on the base paths. The Pirates were just 3-for-18 with runners on base, including a 1-for-12 showing with runners on scoring position.
The Knights got things going in the top of the first as centerfielder Ronnie Richardson led off the game with a single, advanced the bases via stolen base and groundout, and scored on an RBI-ground ball by Haladay to give UCF a 1-0 lead, which it would not relinquish.
Third baseman Nick Carrillo and designated hitter Jeramy Matos opened the second with back-to-back doubles, Richardson followed with an RBI-double three hitters later, and shortstop Darnell Sweeney put the Knights ahead 4-0 with a run-scoring single to center.
East Carolina got on the board in the bottom of the inning courtesy of an infield RBI-single that plated catcher Zach Wright from third. That, however, would be the lone tally of the ballgame for the designated home team as the Pirates left the bases loaded in the third and runners at second and third in both the fourth and seventh frames.
UCF, meanwhile, tacked on two more runs in the third as East Carolina reliever Tyler Joyner brought both right fielder Alex Friedrich and Carrillo home with consecutive wild pitches. The Knights blew the game open an inning later when second baseman Spencer Haynes opened the fourth with a single to center, Richardson was hit by a pitch and Taladay crushed a 1-1 Joyner offering high over the wall in right field to stake his team to a commanding 9-1 edge.
The Knights closed out the scoring in what proved to be the final inning when Taladay plated Richardson with an RBI-triple to the gap in right center and reserve right fielder Erik Barber accounted for the final tally with a run-scoring double down the left-field line.
Taladay was one of three UCF players to post multiple-hit outings as Richardson, Carrillo and Matos each had two. Both of Matos’ hits were for extra bases. Chris Matulis tossed the final two frames for the Knights, giving up two hits and a walk to go with a strikeout.
Designated hitter Drew Reynolds led East Carolina with three hits. Starter Jharel Cotton (8-2) was tagged with the loss after giving up four runs on six hits while striking out one in 1 2/3 innings of work. Joyner allowed five runs on as many hits and Dickens was charged with a pair of runs on two hits and a walk while striking out a trio. Both hurlers threw three frames apiece.