UCF bullpen dominates, Miami offense sputters in 4-3 loss

Sophomore infielder Jason Torres stretches to narrowly force a runner out at Mark Light Stadium on Feb. 22, 2024.

Despite a hot start at the plate, the Miami bats were stunned by the Central Florida (UCF) bullpen going the last six innings without scoring a run as the Hurricanes fell 4-3 to the Knights in a nailbiter at Mark Light Field on Wednesday night.

“We got flat a little bit,” Junior third basemen Dorian Gonzalez Jr. said. “We went away from our game plan, and things sped up on us. It’s something to learn from.”

While the bats were cold, there were also plenty of missed opportunities to put runs on the board by ‘Canes hitters. In three of the last six innings where UM did not score, it had runners in scoring position. Two situations of that kind occurred, with base runners on third and fewer than two outs.

The stage was again set at the bottom of the ninth for more Mark Light magic. Unfortunately, but perfectly summing up the story of this game, freshman star Daniel Cuvet grounded into a game-ending double play with runners on the corners and one out.

“They did a great job in the bullpen,” Miami head coach J.D. Arteaga said. “We probably could’ve adjusted a little bit with our offensive approach. All in all, we did hit some balls hard and just the conditions today anything up in the air was going to get knocked down.”

The most prominent bright spot in this challenging game for the Hurricanes was an outstanding debut from freshman pitcher Jordan Vargas. Vargas dealt for four almost-perfect innings, giving up zero runs on just one fluke hit that resulted from miscommunication on the infield.

“To come out first time in his career, you know, one run game and keep us there. Because of him we had a chance to win that ballgame,” Arteaga said. “Anytime someone gets their first opportunity and responds like he did, that’s always a great sign moving forward.”

The Miami bullpen was the biggest concern for Arteaga coming into the season, but it has been almost perfect to begin its 2024 campaign. In 16.2 innings pitched, the ‘Canes bullpen has been dominant, not allowing a single earned run up to this point, and may have just found its next go-to arm in Vargas.

The starting pitcher for UM was veteran Ben Chestnutt. Chestnutt had a decent outing, tossing 3.2 innings pitched, and was pulled with the bases loaded and two outs in the top of the fourth inning when the Knights only had one run on the board. He was then relieved by Myles Caba, who threw a wild pitch, scoring a run, followed by a two-run single to letting all of Chesnutt’s runners come across to score, causing him to finish with four earned runs.

Those four runs proved to be enough for UCF to come away with the win as Miami could only plate three runs, all off of UCF starter Cade Boxrucker, by way of RBI singles from Gonzalez Jr. and catcher Carlos Perez in the first, and an RBI double from outfielder Lucas Carrier in the third.

Next, the Hurricanes will look to get back in the win column as they take on the LIU Sharks in a three-game set this weekend at home. The first game will be Friday at 7 p.m. with Gage Ziehl on the mound at Mark Light Field.