ORLANDO -- The No. 13 UCF baseball team lost 5-2 to Rice in the regular season finale on Saturday and will enter the Conference USA tournament next week as the No. 2 seed, the highest in school history.
The Owls (39-15, 17-7 C-USA) won the last two games in the series, including Saturday’s winner-take-all finale, to clinch the conference regular-season championship and the top seed in next week’s tournament. UCF finished its program-best year in C-USA at 16-8 and 41-14 overall.
“The credit goes to Rice this weekend. They played better than us, and they have one heck of a team,” UCF head coach Terry Rooney said after the game. “I told the guys, ‘We will be a better team for playing this series. We will be a better team for playing in this championship environment.’”
The Knights and Owls played in front of the largest crowd for a series in UCF history (6,601). Saturday’s attendance was 2,131, the ninth-largest crowd ever at the UCF baseball complex.
Senior Bryan Brown, a native of Winter Springs, pitched 6 2/3 innings and allowed just two runs to keep the Knights in the ballgame. Brown, who entered in the second inning in relief of starter Brian Adkins, recorded the longest outing of his career and received a standing ovation from the crowd when exiting the field in the ninth.
“As an alum next year and many years after when I have little kids, it’s going to be something special coming back when the stands are always full and the crowd is into it. It’s going to be awesome,” Brown said after the game.
After Rice plated a two-out RBI single to open the game, UCF responded with back-to-back singles by Ronnie Richardson and Darnell Sweeney in the bottom of the first. Chris Taladay advanced the runners on a sacrifice bunt, and D.J. Hicks registered his 10th sacrifice fly and 67th RBI this year to tie the game.
Rice tacked on two more runs in the top of the third before Brown relieved Brian Adkins and got a double-play groundout to end the inning. The Owls added one more run in the fourth.
The Knights brought some life back into the crowd when Hicks ripped a 2-2 pitch down the right-field line to score a hustling Taladay all the way from first base in the bottom of the seventh to make it a 4-2 game.
Rice scored the game’s final run in the ninth inning, but UCF had a chance in the bottom-half with a pair of runners on before Rice’s Tyler Duffy shut the door on the rally.
News & Notes:
-Saturday was the first time in C-USA history it came down to winner-take-all on the final day
-Hicks ranks second all-time at UCF in sacrifice flies and is one shy of the single-season record of 11 by Dee Brown (2004) and Mark Maloney (1985)
-Richardson was hit for the 30th time this year, and 60th of his career in Game 3