The result Friday night did not go as UCF baseball had hoped.
A 3-2 loss to No. 10 Louisville was a sour note on an otherwise bright weekend. But the Knights swept a doubleheader Thursday and thus took the series over the Cardinals, asserting themselves as favorites in the American Athletic Conference.
The win also may elevate UCF (25-16, 12-3 AAC) into the national rankings.
The narrative is similar to the fall, when UCF’s football team went to Louisville and upset a team ranked in the top-10 to take control of the conference and earn the nation’s attention. The football team, of course, would go on to win the Fiesta Bowl. The Knights baseball team now will try to ensure this result has a similar trampoline effect for them.
“This weekend was a good weekend,” UCF coach Terry Rooney said. “These guys have been playing well for a long time, for these last couple weeks. Obviously it was a big series, but we’ve got a lot of baseball left in this conference.”
The Knights had a costly error in the first inning, a two-out grounder wasn’t handled by shortstop Tommy Williams and Louisville’s next batter, Jeff Gardner, deposited the ball over the right field wall for a 2-0 lead.
The Knights would pull back a run on a sacrifice fly from Erik Barber, but Louisville (28-11, 8-5 AAC) tacked on another run in the fifth and that would be enough to hold off UCF. The Knights loaded the bases with two outs against Louisville’s elite closer, Nick Burdi, who touched 100 miles per hour on several pitches, but the first-round Major League Baseball prospect got Derrick Salberg swinging to end the game.
The Knights now hold a 2.5-game lead atop the American with nine conference games remaining. Like the football team, UCF must hold that fragile lead down the final stretch – which includes road trips to No. 14 Houston and UConn.
“I don’t think we approach it any different with where we are,” Rooney said. “There’s a lot of baseball left, there’s a lot of great teams left we have to play and one game at a time, one pitch at a time. These kids have done a great job, but the margin of error is so small.”