Jonathan Griffin and D.J. Hicks were Central Florida's offensive leaders coming into NCAA tournament play and they didn't disappoint Saturday.
Griffin had four hits, including a homer, and drove in five runs to lead the Central Florida Knights over Bethune-Cookman 16-5. Hicks had four hits and drove in a pair.
"There's no question about it, Griff has been locked in," Knights coach Terry Rooney said. "From the second half of last year he has been in his element and he never stopped."
Rooney said the first baseman has had "an All-American type of season." Griffin came into the Tallahassee Regional batting .332, second to team leader Hicks' .343 batting average.
"When you have a middle of the lineup with the names `Hicks' and `Griffin' you have to pitch to somebody," the manager said. "We brought them here to hit balls in the gap and hit home runs and that's what they're doing."
The loss eliminated Bethune-Cookman (36-25), the fourth seed in the regional.
Second-seeded Central Florida (39-22) will play Sunday against the loser of Saturday's second game between top-seeded Florida State and No. 3 Alabama.
The Knights wore out seven Wildcat pitchers with a 20-hit onslaught in a game delayed 3 hours, 21 minutes in the top of the eighth due to lightning in the area surrounding Florida State's Dick Howser Stadium.
Griffin drove in Central Florida's first three runs with a single in the first and his two-run homer, his team-leading 19th of the season, over the left field fence in the sixth. He drove in two more with a double in the seventh. Derek Luciano had four RBIs and two hits for the Knights.
Alejandro Sanchez homered and Brashad Johnson drove in two runs for Bethune-Cookman.
The Wildcats scored four unearned runs in the sixth inning to take a 4-3 lead, but Central Florida went back on top and broke the game open with eight runs in the top of the seventh. The Knights added four more in the eighth and one in the ninth.
The seventh inning has been Bethune-Cookman's Achilles heel all season, said Wildcats coach Mervlyn Melendez.
"Seven is usually the inning that we usually can't get anybody out and that turned out to be the big inning for UCF," Melendez said. "We couldn't locate and couldn't throw the pitches we needed to and that was ultimately the inning that destroyed our season."
Central Florida's Nick Cicio (4-2) got the win and Bethune-Cookman's Chris Anselmo (3-5) took the loss, both in relief.
After two outs in the sixth, Bethune-Cookman loaded the bases on a pair of errors, a hit batter and a walk. Central Florida starter Danny Winkler then walked in one run and the Wildcats' Johnson drove in two more with a single for a 3-3 tie. Winkler gave way to Cicio who gave up an RBI single to Leonard that gave the Wildcats their first lead. Pinch hitter Nick Johnson then grounded out to end the inning.
The Wildcats lead was short-lived as Central Florida's first three batters in the seventh each singled to load the bases after Anselmo began the inning, in relief of starter Rayan Gonzalez.
Alselmo left without recording an out. D.J. Hicks greeted Bethune-Cookman's next pitcher, Bryan Rivera, with an RBI single that tied the score at 4-4. Griffin then doubled with the bases still loaded to add two more and Luciano followed with another double to drive in another pair.
Central Florida had scored five runs before Gabriel Hernandez, the third Wildcat pitcher to take the mound in the seventh, recorded the first out. But the Knights then added three more runs to take an 11-4 lead before the top of the inning ended.