UH baseball punches ticket to AAC tournament championship
UH baseball is one win away from hoisting the American Athletic Conference tournament crown and punching its ticket to the NCAA Tournament after bouncing back from a loss on Saturday afternoon to come back and defeat UCF 9-6 in the second game of the day in Clearwater, Florida.
Sophomore catcher Anthony Tulimero was the hero for the Cougars, hitting a three-run homer to left in the ninth inning of the day’s second game to send the Cougars the conference championship game.
“It’s win-or-go-home in a game like that so whoever wants it more is usually going to take it,” Tulimero said after Saturday’s second game. “And I got a feeling that the guys from H-Town wanted it a little more tonight.”
The Cougars will take on East Carolina at 11 a.m. on Sunday in a winner-take-all game for the AAC tournament championship and an automatic spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Here is a closer look at each game:
Designated hitter Santiago Garcia, who electrified the UH offense with his bat in the Cougars’ first two games of the tournament, picked up where he left off in his first at-bat on Saturday. With a runner on second and two outs in the top of the first, Garcia lined an RBI into right field to put the Cougars up early.
Sophomore third baseman Alex Lopez, who doubled and came around to score in the first, kept his hot bat going with a two-run home run to right-center in the third to increase the lead to 3-0.
After breezing through the Knights lineup the first time through the order, freshman southpaw Malachi Lott got into trouble in the fourth as three of the first four UCF hitters in the bottom of the fourth recorded hits, resulting in two runs. Junior right-handed reliever Ben Sears took over on the mound for UH and recorded the final two outs of the inning but two additional UCF runs scored, giving the Knights a 4-3 lead.
The Cougars quickly answered UCF’s big inning with a run of their own in the fifth on a solo shot to right off the bat of junior shortstop Ian McMillan to even things up at 4-4.
UCF second baseman Tom Josten put the Knights back in front with a leadoff homer to right in the bottom of the sixth. The Knights tacked on two more runs in the inning to extend its lead to three.
McMillan had the answer for the Cougars once again, launching a two-run shot to left in the seventh, his second home run of the game, to cut the deficit to 7-6.
The Knights added a run in the bottom half of the seventh and carried an 8-6 lead into the ninth.
Down to their last three outs, Garcia led off the inning for the Cougar with a single to right field. Senior first baseman Ryan Hernandez evened the game on the very next pitch with one swing of the bat, blasting a hanging breaking ball over the left field wall.
Junior southpaw Jose Torrealba entered relief in the ninth and retired the UCF hitters in order to force extra innings.
After the Cougars went down in the top of the 10th, a leadoff double off the bat of UCF catcher Andrew Sundean ended up haunting the Cougars as a few batters later center fielder Gephry Pena drove in the winning run with a walk-off hit down the left field line.
The Knights 9-8 victory forced a win-or-go-home second game.
With two on and two outs in the top of the ninth, Tulimero had the biggest swing of his life. The UH sophomore catcher blasted a 2-1 pitch over the left field wall to break a tie game and put the Cougars up 9-6. Torrealba took the mound in the bottom half of the inning and sealed the deal, setting up a date with East Carolina in the conference tournament championship game.
Just as they did in game one, the Cougars jumped out to a 3-0 lead as Garcia and McMillan collected RBIs in the top of the first.
It didn’t take long for UCF to respond, as a solo shot from Alex Freeland and Ben McCabe’s two-run jack onto the interstate behind right field tied things up after one inning of play.
UH took the lead in the fifth on an RBI single from Tulimero.
Once again, UCF responded as Freeland hit his second solo home run of the game. McCabe followed with his second long ball of the night an inning later to give the Knights their first lead. Pena drove in another run in the inning to extend UCF’s advantage to 6-4.
Garcia cut UH’s deficit to one with his second RBI of the game in the eighth. A few batters later, McMillan continued his big day at the plate driving in the tying run on a single to left-center.
This set up Tulimero’s heroics in the ninth to lift the Cougars past the Knights and clinch a spot in Sunday’s championship game.