May 14, 2010
By Sarah Tarasewicz
HOUSTON, Texas (UCFAthletics.com) - An impressive 3-for-4 outing by Hillary Barrow (Miami, Fla.), which included the game-winning two-RBI double in the seventh inning, sent the UCF softball team to the Conference USA Championship game with a 3-1 victory over Memphis in the semifinals Friday afternoon at Cougar Softball Complex.
"There is no one better at the plate with runners in scoring position than Hillary," head coach Renee Luers-Gillispie said. "In pressure situations, she just has the drive and desire to make something happen and she did that two different times for us today. With it being her senior season, she has been the one to really step up for us."
With the win, the Knights advance to the C-USA Championship game against East Carolina Saturday afternoon at 5:30 p.m. ET, live on CBS College Sports Network.
UCF's appearance in the league championship game will be its second in the last three years, with both appearances coming at Cougar Softball Stadium. In 2008, the Knights advanced to the finale with a win over UTEP, before defeating then-No. 9 ranked host Houston, 4-2, to earn C-USA's automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
Barrow was the Black and Gold's hero Friday, leading the squad with three hits, a double and two RBI. Freshman Marissa Menendez (Tampa, Fla.) also came up big for UCF, posting the game-tying RBI in the top of the sixth inning while also posting a single.
"I really think that I am at my best on the field under pressure," Barrow said. "That is my favorite thing about this game. I strive under pressure and I have since I was young."
Tiffany Lane (Moreno Valley, Calif.), Natalie Land (Mayo, Fla.), Vanessa Perez (San Diego, Calif.) and Morgan Bullard (Columbia, S.C.) also tallied hits in the contest, with Lane, Land and Perez each adding a run scored for the designated visiting team.
Senior Ashleigh Cole (Pace, Fla.) was once again nearly untouchable in the circle for UCF while picking up the victory. The hurler allowed only one run on two hits and struck out six in her 30th complete-game outing of the year. Also impressive about Cole's performance Friday was the fact that she did not walk a single batter, while improving her record to 23-12 overall.
"I felt really good out there," Cole said. "After they hit the home run, I knew there was no way that we wouldn't score a run. I know how our team works and we come from behind all of the time. I had no doubt that it would be the same today."
For the second-straight game, the Black and Gold had to play from behind after a home run off the bat of Memphis' Maddie McKinley put the Knights in the one-run hole in the bottom of the fourth inning. But, the Black and Gold was able to even up the game in the top of the sixth thanks to a RBI grounder by Menendez.
Land led off the sixth frame with an infield single before stealing second base to put herself into scoring position. Barrow hit a line-drive single to the left field gap and advanced to second on the throw to third. With runners at second and third and nobody out, Abby McClain (Waterloo, Iowa) reached on a fielder's choice in which Barrow was called out for interference on the basepaths. Menendez then came to the plate with runners at the corners and hit a grounder to the right side to score Land and knot the score, 1-1.
The Black and Gold took a two-run lead in the top of the seventh inning when Barrow laced a two-RBI double down the left field line to allow both Perez and Lane to touch home safely. Perez started the rally with a single down the left field line and advanced to second on a fielding error by the Tiger's left fielder. Lane followed with a one-out single to set Barrow up for the base-clearing double.
"Hillary came through huge in the clutch with that double," Cole said. "Her hit put us two runs ahead heading into the seventh and that just gives you so much more confidence to be able to throw your game and close it out in the final inning."
With a two-run advantage under her belt, Cole and her defense were able to retire the side in order to clinch the berth in the C-USA Championship contest.
"Ashleigh did a really nice job of sealing up the win for us in the seventh inning," Luers-Gillispie said. "We struggled early in the season in closing up that last inning and being able to shut teams down, but having that two-run lead really helped her relax and close out that game for us."
All of UCF's contests at the C-USA Championship will be streamed live on All-Access, have live radio coverage and may also be followed on Gametracker. All events will be available on UCFAthletics.com.
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.