March 20, 2010
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - For the first time since joining the league, the UCF softball team took two games from visiting Houston in a Conference USA doubleheader Saturday afternoon at the UCF Softball Complex. The Knights won the opening game, 5-1, before closing out the day with a 2-1 victory in the nightcap.
The pair of triumphs improved UCF's record to 16-11 overall and 3-1 in C-USA play, while the Cougars suffered their first two league losses of 2010 to fall to 15-11 overall and 3-2 in conference action.
Sophomore Natalie Land (Mayo, Fla.) put on a magnificent display of both offensive and defensive prowess in the doubleheader, as she went 3-for-5 on the day with a sacrifice hit and two RBI, while making some spectacular diving plays in the field. With hits in both contests Saturday, Land extended her season and team-best hitting streak to eight games.
"Natalie is just so fun to watch out there," head coach Renee Luers-Gillispie said. "She has so much energy not just defensively, but offensively. She has the speed and the ability to put a lot of pressure on the defense. She is just so solid and continues to improve every day, because she just wants it so bad when she is at the plate. She is always making something happen."
Both Arielle Palafox (Lakewood, Fla.) and Morgan Bullard (Columbia, S.C.) added two hits apiece for the Knights' offense, with Palafox tallying a double, a RBI and a walk, and Bullard posting a RBI, scoring two runs and stealing a base.
"I am just out there trying to do whatever I can do offensively to help the team and drive runners in," Palafox said. "Lately I have really started to like batting in the clean-up spot in the lineup. I fell really comfortable there."
GAME ONE - UCF 5, Houston 1 Four different Knights posted hits in the opening game Saturday to hand Houston its first C-USA loss of the season. Bullard paced the Black and Gold with a hit, a RBI and one run scored, while Land extended her hitting streak to seven games with a RBI single in the second inning. Palafox and Marissa Menendez (Tampa, Fla.) each also tallied hits for UCF in the victory.
In the circle, senior Ashleigh Cole (Pace, Fla.) improved her record to 10-6 on the year after holding the Cougars to only one run on five hits, while striking out three.
"Cole continues to be a solid presence for us in the circle," Luers-Gillispie said. "She looks so great out there. I feel like every game she throws she gets a little stronger and a little more confident."
Houston scored the first run of the day in the top of the second inning, but the Black and Gold took a four run lead in the bottom half of the frame thanks to a leadoff single by Palafox, walks to both Menendez and Vanessa Perez (San Diego, Calif.), hits from Bullard and Land and three errors by the Cougar defense.
The four-run advantage would stick, as both Cole and Houston starter Amanda Crabtree each held their opposing offense scoreless though the remainder of the contest.
GAME TWO - UCF 2, Houston 1 Land was a perfect 2-for-2 with a RBI and a sacrifice hit in the second game of the doubleheader Saturday as UCF took two games from the Cougars for the first time since joining the league for the 2005-06 season.
Senior Kristina DeMello (Mead, Wash.) earned the victory in the circle for the Black and Gold, allowing a mere one unearned run on five hits in seven innings of work. The hurler also struck out four batters and walked only one to improve her record to 2-4 on the season. Fellow pitcher Diana Rojas (Miami, Fla.) faced one batter in relief in the sixth inning, before DeMello re-entered the contest and shut down Houston's offense.
"The team had really great energy all day today," DeMello said. "I just fed off of that energy from the first game and threw the way I know I am capable of. Our defense gave me confidence as well. They were making some great plays in the field to take hits away from (Houston) and keep them from scoring. There really is no pressure on me when the defense is making amazing plays like they were today."
Unlike the opening game, UCF switched the tables on Houston in the nightcap, as it plated the opening run on a leadoff single by McClain, a sacrifice bunt by Land and a RBI double off the bat of Palafox to take the early lead.
"Arielle has really stepped up and taken ownership of the cleanup spot in our lineup," Luers-Gillispie said. "She really seems to enjoy being in the position to score runners and strives on that pressure to bring runners in. As a freshman, she has done a great job for us not only with RBIs and putting runners into scoring position, but also getting on base and getting her teammates fired up."
One run crossed in the top of the fifth for the Cougars on two hits and two UCF errors to even the game, 1-1. But, a leadoff single by Bullard, a sacrifice bunt from McClain and a RBI single up the middle of the infield off the bat of Land erased the tie and once again gave the Knights a one-run advantage.
"When I was up to bat in the sixth inning, the score was tied so I was trying to do anything I could to score Morgan from second base," Land said. "I wasn't really worried about where I was going to hit the ball, I just wanted to make sure I put the ball in play."
The one-run lead would prove to be all the Black and Gold would need, as the squad would seal the victory in the top of the sixth inning.
The Knights conclude the series with the Cougars Sunday with a 12 p.m. contest 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.