UCF softball made a statement against USF in its first home sweep over the Bulls on Sunday.
Along with the sweep, the Knights earned their 800th win in program history.
Junior outfielder Chloe Evans left her mark on the rivalry after hitting the game-winning knocks in both the first and final game of the series. This was her first time being a part of this rivalry, and Evans was also highly recruited by USF.
“Chloe lives for those moments, and that’s been the fun part about being in the dugout with them and being able to have those conversations before they go up to plate, so you kind of know where their mind is,” head coach Cindy Ball-Malone said.
It was a pitching clinic in the first game of the series with right-handed pitcher Sarah Willis taking the win for the Knights.
The 2-1 victory gave Willis her 11th win of the year as the junior has been one of the best pitchers in the conference. She has been named to the American Athletic Conference Honor Roll five times this season. Willis pitched all eight innings and allowed four hits, racking up seven strikeouts in the win.
A groundout from redshirt freshman infielder Tieley Vaughn was enough for sophomore infielder Lauren Bevis to score, putting USF in control 1-0. The first UCF score would not come until the bottom of the sixth inning.
“I knew, obviously in that inning too, my swings were feeling good today again,” Evans said. “But I knew that I needed to just keep going with my swings.”
With two runners in scoring position, Evans stepped up to the plate and hit a sacrifice fly out to right field, allowing junior third baseman Jada Cody to make it home to tie the score at 1-1. The contest would go into extra innings. The bottom of the eighth is when Evans would make her mark once again.
Cody started the inning off with a double out to left field to put herself in scoring position. After a groundout from freshman infielder Aubrey Evans advanced Cody to third, Evans stepped up to the plate.
Evans singled a ball that sailed just over the hand of the USF first baseman, ending the game for UCF in walk-off fashion. With the end of the season nearing, Ball-Malone said there are a couple of things that go into winning close games.
“It’s about who keeps their composure and plays their best softball at the end of each game, so championship innings are a real thing,” Ball-Malone said. “So, to see our team starting to buy into that and get a little grittier and tougher in those moments is huge.”
Art of Defense
Junior right-handed pitcher Grace Jewell took the win in the second game of the series against the Bulls on Saturday. The 3-1 victory was a contest where the Knights defense put on a show.
After some big plays early from redshirt senior second baseman Jasmine Williams, the game really began to open up in the top of the fourth. Williams continued her performance with a single over to left-center field to score junior shortstop Katie Burge, putting the Knights up 1-0. Junior right fielder Kennedy Searcy came up big with a double to left field, driving in two more runs to put UCF up 3-0.
“Well, they were in scoring position obviously, and I knew that I had to do my job and just get the runners in,” Searcy said.
Late game drama would spark in the bottom of the fifth after USF sophomore catcher Lydia Castro hit a solo home run to bring the Bulls within two. With the tensions high, sophomore right handed pitcher Kaitlyn Felton would strike out the final batter to give UCF the win.
The Knights ended the War on I-4 series with a 2-0 nail-bitting victory as Evans played the hero once again. The runs from the Knights did not come until the top of the sixth inning, and the play from Willis would not go unnoticed. Willis earned the victory on the mound, advancing her team leading win total to 12 and securing the 800th win in program history.
“That’s really exciting, just getting a sweep for the weekend, getting those three dubs on our record and just going out and being ready for the next weekend,” Willis said.
Evans, who has started every game this season and leads the team in hits and RBIs, stepped up to the plate with the game on the line in the bottom of the sixth. With Cody and junior outfielder Johneisha Rowe already on base, Evans hit a single to the shortstop that led to an error at first base, leaving time for Cody and Rowe to bring in the only runs of the game.
With the victory, the Knights have won four straight games as they look to carry the momentum into next weekend's series against Houston, which will be their last home series of the regular season. With the sweep, the Knights rank second in the American Athletic Conference and are ranked No. 30 in the RPI standings. The Knights play their first game of the series against Houston on Friday at 6:00 p.m.
“Really just buying into this next weekend, obviously our last home weekend,” Evans said. “So, I think it’s gonna be really huge for us to come out in front of our fans for the last time, obviously in the AAC, and really bring the momentum into the rest of the season.”
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