In the minutes after the game was over, UCF pitcher Ben Lively jogged over to a small restraining fence in right field and chatted with his friend from the summer pitching in the Cape Cod League.
In the hours prior, the competitive spirit that has so endeared Lively to UCF coach Ben Lively had been on display, and Marshall pitcher Aaron Blair, the good friend with whom Lively now chatted, had been the fuel that inspired Lively to his sixth win of the year.
The Knights junior ace allowed seven hits and one earned run in 7 2/3 innings, and Erik Hempe sent a home run deep over the left field wall to help UCF to a 3-1 win over the Herd and Blair, one of college baseball’s top pitching prospects.
"That was probably the best pitching match-up in all of college baseball today," Rooney said. "Judging by the number of scouts I think they’d probably agree. Ben did a terrific job, their pitcher did a terrific job, too. Those really are two of the best pitchers in the country going at it every single pitch. And obviously Ben did a really good job of making pitches when he needed to, certainly Hempe got the big hit for us, and as we’ve continued to say every pitch matters and today we played one or two pitches better."
More than 30 scouts were in attendance behind home plate to see both Lively, projected to be selected in the top five rounds of the MLB draft, and Blair, a top-50 overall prospect. The two did not disappoint. Both pitchers were hitting 91 to 92 miles per hour on their fastball, and Lively struck out six of the first 10 batters he faced.
Despite that effort, UCF trailed 1-0 in the bottom of the fifth inning as Blair had stymied UCF’s offense.
With two outs and a runner on second, however, Blair left a change up high and over the plate, and Hempe sent the ball to Oviedo.
"When you got a good pitcher like that, when he gets a runner in scoring position, he bears down a little bit more," Hempe said. "He starts throwing all of his pitches for strikes and it’s tough to hit. I got lucky he left one up."
Marshall put runners on second and third with one out in the sixth inning, but Lively got a strike out and first baseman James Vasquez showed off his hops at first base with a dazzling leaping catch to end the inning on a line drive that surely would have driven in the tying runs.
Lively departed with runners on in the eighth inning, but Spencer Davis entered and closed the door to finish the outing for UCF, which has a chance to take its second consecutive weekend series on Sunday.
They have Lively to thank especially for out-dueling his summer league friend.
"I know I got to be on my 'A'game no matter what," Lively said after the game. "It could have gone either way. I could have gave up a home run we could have lost. I had a little bit of edge to me today and it worked out."