ORLANDO, Fla. -- Down 9-5 late in the game, Columbia pushed across three runs over the final two innings but could not even the score as Central Florida escaped with a 9-8 victory over the Lions on Friday night at Bergman Field.
Columbia scored quickly in the first inning, sparked by a leadoff single by Nick Cox. Cox promptly stole second base and moved to third on a groundout. Cox advanced home on another groundout off the bat of Dario Pizzano that gave the Lions a 1-0 advantage.
The Knights came back with two runs in the bottom of the first inning, although the ball did not leave the infield during the frame. Central Florida used a pair of infield singles and two walks to quickly gain a 2-1 advantage but Columbia starter Pat Lowery came back to strike out the next batter and induce a 6-4-3 double play to get out of the inning with no further damage.
Columbia came back with three runs in the top of the second to regain a 4-2 lead. With one out, Alex Ferrera ripped a low line drive the other way into right field that skipped past Erik Hempe and rolled all the way to the wall. Ferrera made it to third on the single and two-base error and scored on a passed ball to tie the game.
Down 0-2 in the count with one out, Nick Crucet worked out a walk and Fischer followed by depositing a 1-1 pitch over the wall in left field, a two-run home run that put Columbia ahead 4-2.
Lowery, who struck out seven batters in five innings, allowed just one hit over the next three innings. In the fifth, Lowery ran into some difficulty as Central Florida scored five runs to take back the lead and move ahead, 7-4.
Columbia got one back in the sixth on the Banos solo home run, his first of the season, to make it a 7-5 game.
Central Florida got that run back in the sixth and pushed across an unearned run in the seventh to gain a 9-5 lead.
In the eighth, Columbia got a run back on a dropped fly ball in center and had runners at second and third with nobody out, down 9-6. Joe Rogers came on in relief and retired the next three Lion batters to escape the jam and stifle the Columbia threat.
The Lions got the first two runners on in the ninth inning against Rogers. Pinch-hitter Billy Rumpke drew a walk and Cox reached on a throwing error by Rogers, who tried to cut down the lead runner on a grounder back to the mound.
Pizzano singled home Rumpke with one out and Cox scored on a sacrifice fly by Nick Ferraresi to get the Lions within a run at 9-8. But Rogers got the third out on a strikeout, stranding the potential tying run at first to end the game.
Bryan Brown earned the win for the Knights after coming on in relief of starter Danny Winkler in the third. Brown allowed two runs, one earned, in five innings of relief. He struck out seven and did not walk anyone.
Columbia and Central Florida will meet again on Saturday, March 19 at 4 p.m. at Bergman Field.
Columbia turned three double plays in the game ... the Lions have hit three home runs in the last two games ... Nick Cox stole his fourth base of the season to move into third place on the all-time stolen bases list with 56, passing Mike Brown '80 and Matt Murphy '98 ... Zach Epstein retired the Knights in order in the eighth inning ... Columbia's five-game road winning streak was its longest in more than nine years ... the 7-4 start to the season is Columbia's best 11-game start since the 1988 team also opened the season with a 7-4 record.