Danny Neri’s historic performance lifts UCF to first Big 12 tourney win

Danny Neri made history Tuesday night as the UCF catcher became the first player to hit three home runs in a Big 12 Baseball Championship game, powering the Knights to a 6-5 win over Cincinnati in 11 innings at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.

It was the first multi-home run performance for the senior, who came into the tournament with 4.

Neri’s third homer — a shot down the rightfield line — in the top of the 11th was the winner and saved UCF, which blew a three-run lead in the bottom of the ninth inning to the Bearcats.

The win advances the Knights to the double-elimination tournament, helping strengthen their chances of making the NCAA Tournament.

UCF (34-18, 14-15 Big 12), the eighth seed, will play either No. 2 Oklahoma State or Texas Tech on Thursday (8:30 p.m., ESPN+).

First baseman Lex Boedicker started with a sacrifice fly that scored second baseman Andrew Bait in the top of the first inning. The Knights tacked on another run when Neri took the first pitch he saw from Cincinnati starter Nathan Taylor and blasted it into the right-field bleachers for a 2-0 advantage.

It was Neri’s fifth home run of the season and the 11th of the senior’s career.

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Rightfielder Jack Zyska had an RBI single in the top of the third to push UCF’s lead to 3-0.

Knights starter Dom Stagliano cruised through the first three innings before Cincinnati’s Hunter Jessee scored on a double by Christian Mitchelle in the fourth inning to cut into the lead, 3-1. But after giving up back-to-back hits with no outs in the bottom of the fifth, coach Rich Wallace went to the bullpen and replaced Stagliano with Dominic Castellano, who proceeded to strike out the side.

Stagliano gave up a run on 3 hits while walking 2 and striking out 3 in four innings.

Zyska tripled with two outs in the seventh inning, setting up Neri for his second homer of the afternoon — a shot to deep right-center to push the lead to 5-1.

Cincinnati (31-24, 17-13 Big 12) scored a run on an RBI double by Max Palmieri in the bottom of the eighth inning, but it was at the bottom of the ninth where the Bearcats did their damage off reliever Kris Sosnowski.

Sosnowski walked two and gave up a single in the inning before giving way to reliever Spencer Bauer (2-1), who gave up two singles, scoring all three runs.

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Kyle Kramer entered in the 11th inning and got the save, his second of the season.

This was the 36th overall meeting between the two programs, which spent 10 seasons as members of the American Athletic Conference before joining the Big 12 this season. UCF dropped two of its three games against Cincinnati (April 26-28) but still holds a 4-1 record in conference tournaments.

The Knights are in the mix for the 64-team NCAA tournament field, with D1baseball projecting them as a third seed in the Athens Regional. The program hasn’t qualified for the NCAA tourney since 2017.

The Bearcats will face the loser of Game 4 between No. 3 Texas and No. 10 Texas Tech (5:30 p.m., ESPN+).

Matt Murschel can be reached at