Orlando, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - The opening day of the UCF Invitational proved to be a successful one for the UCF (3-3) softball team, as the squad used a balanced attack of stellar pitching, consistent hitting and sparkling defense to take a pair of wins from South Carolina, 4-1, and North Florida, 6-3, Friday night at the UCF Softball Complex.
"The team is starting to understand what kind of energy and commitment they need to have to play this game," head coach Renee Luers-Gillispie said. "They had so much energy in both games today. They kept their energy up and kept their focus, and that's the results that you get when you are playing with everything you've got."
Senior Ashleigh Cole (Pace, Fla.) allowed only one run on five hits, while striking out seven batters in the opening game against the Gamecocks to improve her record to 2-1 on the season and help the Knights hand South Carolina (5-1) its first loss of the year.
"Ashleigh was on fire in that opening game today," Luers-Gillispie said. "I feel like the harder the competition she faces is, the more she wants it and the better she throws. She has such great movement right now and she is comfortable throwing all of her pitches, there is not a single pitch she wouldn't throw. If she can keep that kind of focus and keep her pitches strong like that, I'm looking forward to seeing what's going to happen in Conference USA."
In the nightcap against North Florida (1-8), Diana Rojas (Miami, Fla.) picked up her first win of the season in the circle after allowing only three runs on three hits in four inning of work, while Kristina DeMello (Mead, Wash.) threw three innings of scoreless softball in relief to earn her first save as a Knight.
Offensively, Marissa Menendez (Tampa, Fla.) and Morgan Bullard (Columbia, S.C.) paced the Black and Gold at the plate as they both went 3-for-5 with a triple. Menendez added two RBI and a walk, while Bullard scored three runs for the Knights.
"It feels really great to get these two wins tonight," Menendez said after the game. "We have been working really hard to come together as a team and we did that tonight and great things happened. I just really wanted to play well for my team and do the best that I could to help the team pull out two wins."
Versus South Carolina
Tiffany Lane (Moreno Valley, Calif.) led the Knights' offensive attack with a 2-for-2 performance in the opening game against South Carolina, while also scoring a run and recording a RBI. Senior Hillary Barrow (Miami, Fla.) added a RBI single and scored a run for the Black and Gold, while Menendez and Bullard also posted hits in the game.
The Knights went up early on the Gamecocks on a RBI single up the middle off the bat of Barrow in the first inning. Lane started things off with a walk, before advancing to second on a bunt single by Menendez. Barrow then stepped up to the plate to drive in the first UCF run of the game.
The Gamecocks answered with a run of their own in the top half of the second inning to even the score, but with two outs, the Knights went ahead again in the bottom of the inning when Lane drove in Bullard with a single to right field.
Three errors by South Carolina and three-consecutive perfectly executed bunts by the Black and Gold allowed the home team to tally two more runs on the board to take a three-run lead heading into the seventh inning.
Cole took control of the game from there, holding the Gamecocks scoreless in the top of the final inning to seal the win for UCF.
With the win over South Carolina, the Black and Gold improved to 2-1 against opponents from the SEC in 2010.
Versus North Florida
For the second straight game, the Knights were the first to light up the scoreboard. With two outs in the second inning, Mary Helen Tyler (Marianna, Fla.) walked to keep the inning alive and Bullard extended the inning with an infield single. Land knocked in Tyler from second base with a single up the middle of the infield. The Black and Gold then loaded the bases after Abby McClain (Waterloo, Iowa) was pegged by a delivery from UNF's starter, Devyn Findley. A fielder's choice off the bat of Lane scored Bullard, and a single from Menendez, along with a throwing error on the play, allowed two more runs to cross the plate for the home team. Through two full innings, UCF held a four-run lead.
McClain would finish the contest with a hit and two runs scored, while Menendez posted a perfect 2-for-2 performance with a triple and two RBI.
"Besides producing offensively, Abby called two great games behind the plate tonight," Luers-Gillispie said.
Also registering two hits in the victory was Land, who went 2-for-3 with two RBI and one run scored.
North Florida would not go down without a fight, however, and climbed to within one run of the Black and Gold after posting three runs in the top of the fourth inning.
Each team was held scoreless through the next one and one-half innings, before Bullard opened up the bottom of the sixth with her first career triple over the centerfielder's head. In the next at bat, Land drove her in with a single into right field to give the Knights a two-run cushion.
Menendez decided a two-run lead was not enough and blasted her first career triple to the right field fence to score McClain all the way from first base to extend UCF's lead, 6-3.
DeMello and UCF's defense held the Ospreys' bats at bay in the top of the seventh to help the senior earn her first save as a Knight and allowed Rojas to pick up her first win of 2010.
UCF continues play in the UCF Invitational Saturday when it faces off with Villanova at 1:30 p.m. and Troy at 6 p.m. at the UCF Softball Complex.
Season tickets for the 2010 season are only $40 and are on sale now, while single-game tickets are also available for purchase. Tickets can be purchased online at UCFAthletics.com or through the Athletics Ticket Office by calling (407) 823-1000.
For the latest news on the Knights, log on to www.UCFAthletics.com - the official site for UCF varsity sports. The site, which also contains ticket and Golden Knights Club donor information, is also the home of UCF's new online apparel store. Also visit www.UCFPhotos.com, the exclusive fan source for UCF action sports pictures.