Second-seeded UCF scored the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth inning to top the Missouri State Bears, 2-1, Friday afternoon in NCAA Division I Championship opening-round action at the Coral Gables Regional. Chris Taladay’s one-out single to right field drove in Ronnie Richardson and spoiled another strong starting performance from national player of the year Nick Petree in the Bears’ first postseason game since 2003.
Petree (10-4) allowed just two runs on six hits in a complete-game effort, but the Bears could not overcome a pair of key baserunning errors and 12 men left on base, despite out-hitting the Knights, 8-6. MSU (39-21) saw two runners tagged out in between third base and home plate, and failed to put any runs on the board in a pivotal eighth inning after loading the bases with nobody out.
Richardson, who singled to start UCF’s decisive rally in the eighth, sparked the Knights’ offense throughout the day, going 2-for-4 and scoring both UCF runs. The junior outfielder wasted little time in putting the Knights on top, driving the fifth pitch of the game from Petree over the left-field wall–the first home run allowed all season by the Bears’ right-hander, who was named 2012 Louisville Slugger National Player of the Year on Thursday.
The Bears would have several opportunities to even the score in the early stages of the contest. MSU loaded the bases in the first, but came up empty after Spiker Helms was caught in a run-down between third and home, then stranded a runner in scoring position in the second following a Brock Chaffin lead-off single. It was more of the same in the third when Helms doubled and Brent Seifert drew a walk with one out, but Lively once again kept the Bears off the board, as Alex Friedrich made a sliding catch in right to rob Keenen Maddox, and Luke Voit struck out to end the inning.
Lively would settle into a groove from that point, retiring eight straight hitters before a walk to Seifert started the sixth. MSU would put two on base with two out, but reliever Roman Madrid coaxed a ground ball to short off the bat of Derek Mattea to thwart yet another Bears’ rally.
The Bears would finally end their scoring drought in the seventh, capitalizing on a one-out, pinch-hit double by Dylan Becker and an RBI single by Kevin Medrano to knot the score at 1-1. However, a second critical baserunning miscue cost MSU a chance to score the go-ahead run when Medrano was tagged out at third after running through a stop sign on a Seifert base hit to right.
MSU’s inability to cash in on a plethora of scoring chances continued in the eighth. Singles by Maddox and Chaffin sandwiched a walk to Voit to load the bases before UCF reliever Joe Rogers could record a single out. After Mattea bounced to second to force Maddox at the plate, Eric Cheray came within one ball of drawing a run-scoring walk. But Rogers got the freshman on a pop up to shortstop, then slammed the door shut on the Bears’ rally attempt by retiring Joey Hawkins on a grounder to second.
Rogers (5-1) earned the win for the Knights (44-15) after working a scoreless eighth, and Chris Matulis picked up the save after allowing just a one-out walk to Helms in the ninth following a 2-hour, 14-minute delay due to lightning.
For Missouri State, Chaffin finished 2-for-3, while Helms went 2-for-4 with a walk and his 23rd double of the season that moved the senior into a tie for second place on the Bears’ single-season list.
With the setback, the Bears will face the loser of Friday’s second game, featuring top seeded Miami (36-21) and the No. 4 seed Stony Brook (46-11), at 1 p.m. (Central) on Saturday.