Billed as one of the top pitching matchups in the nation on Saturday, UCF’s RHP Ben Lively was able to outduel Marshall’s Aaron Blair, 3-1, for his 20th-career victory to help the Knights (21-19, 7-7) even up the series at 1-all with the Thundering Herd (14-23, 4-7).
Looking for his first victory since March 22 at UAB, Lively went 7 2/3 frames, scattering seven hits while allowing one earned run and striking out nine Marshall batters to improve his record to 6-3 overall on the year with a 1.09 ERA. Career-win No. 20 for Lively helped him crack the top 10 for most wins at UCF, tying him for ninth with Matt Lubozynski (1995-98) and Tommy Novak (1985-86).
Lively received his offensive backing in the fifth thanks in large part to RF Erik Hempe (2-for-3, 1 R, 2 RBI, 1 BB) smacking a go-ahead two-run homer on a 3-2 pitch over the left-field fence.
“Ben did a terrific job, and their pitcher did a great job as well. Those are probably two of the best pitchers in the country going at it every single pitch,” head coach Terry Rooney said. “Ben did a really good job of making pitches when he needed to, and certainly (Erik) Hempe got the big hit for us. As I’ve said all year, every pitch matters, and today we played one or two pitches better.”
In Sunday’s rubber match, the Knight will look to win their third league series of the year with junior RHP Danny Davis (4-2, 3.58 ERA) on the mound. The matinee is scheduled to begin with a 12:30 first pitch.
Under overcast skies all afternoon, Lively was dominant from the get-go, striking out six of the first 10 batters he faced, including all three swinging in the top of the third. He would face adversity in the fourth with runners at first and third and no outs after a pair of singles. After a strikeout of Gray Stafford, Mardu Smith laid down the safety squeeze to give Marshall an early 1-0 lead.
The Knights broke into the scoring column in the fifth with more two-out RBI in the series when Hempe smashed his fourth homer of the year over the left-field wall to score Austin Johnston (1-for-1, 1 R, 2 BB). The inning continued with Chris Taladay (1-for-4, 1 R) notching his 253rd-career hit prior to Parker Webster walking to make way for Jeramy Matos (2-for-4, 1 RBI) who dropped a double down the left-field line to make it 3-1.
Marshall looked to answer right back in the top of the sixth, putting runners at second and third with one out, but Lively buckled down and got a strikeout looking followed by James Vasquez showing off his ups at first base by reeling in a liner to end the threat.
After Lively exited the game with two outs in the eighth inning, RHP Spencer Davis made his second appearance of the series and promptly induced a grounder to shortstop to strand a pair and keep UCF’s lead at 3-1.
Davis returned in the top of the ninth and displayed his nasty repertoire of pitches, striking out all three Thundering Herd batters in order for his fourth save of the year.