May 13, 2011
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By Sarah Tarasewicz
GREENVILLE, N.C. (UCFAthletics.com) - The 2011 season came to a close for the No. 6 UCF (22-32) softball team as it fell to No. 2 Tulsa (43-12), 6-1, in the semifinal round of the Conference USA Championship Friday afternoon at the ECU Softball Stadium. The Knights finished the season with a 22-32 overall record, an 11-13 league clip and made their fourth appearance in the C-USA Championship semifinal in the last five years.
"I am proud of our seniors and the rest of our team coming out and playing such a tough game against Tulsa," head coach Renee Luers-Gillispie said. "We knew they would be a tough team, but I thought our players did a great job. With the exception of a few pitches, we were right in it with them. Those crucial pitches were the difference in the game."
Junior Allie Jest (Stone Mountain, Ga.) had a pair of hits to lead the Knights at the plate, while sophomore Patrice Fee (Cocoa, Fla.) knocked a home run in the third inning to account for UCF's only run of the contest. Senior Abby McClain (Waterloo, Iowa) added a single in the sixth frame.
Fellow senior Diana Rojas (Miami, Fla.) was tagged with the loss on the mound after allowing six runs, three of which were earned, on eight hits with two walks and three strikeouts in 5.1 innings of work. With the loss, Rojas concluded the season with a 10-14 record in the circle.
"This has been the best season for Diana," McClain said of Rojas. "I was so happy for her getting the win yesterday and even though she got pulled today, she has come such a long way. She has grown so much and has turned out to be a really great pitcher. We would not have made it this far this year without her."
Senior Ashley Schmitt (Tampa, Fla.) would close out the contest for the home team, holding Tulsa scoreless on two hits in 1.2 innings of relief. The hurler also had one strikeout in the defeat.
Tulsa scored two runs in the top of the first inning on an infield single and a two-run home run to centerfield off the bat of Samantha Cobb, but Fee cut the Golden Hurricane's lead to only one run in the bottom of the third inning with a solo home run over the left field wall. The round tripper was Fee's fourth of the season and her first career home run in postseason play.
"Patrice has been great all year," Luers-Gillispie said. "She saw a pitch she could hit and drove it out. She has so much power and that really rallied our troops. She kept us in the game and showed that we could handle (Aimee) Creger."
Fee's homer also marked the first run scored on Tulsa in its last 42.2 innings of play. The Golden Hurricane had not given up a run since April 22 in the nightcap of its C-USA doubleheader vs. UAB. During the span, Tulsa outscored its opponents, 23-0, which included its 10-0 victory over Marshall in the opening round of the C-USA Championship.
The Golden Hurricane would go on to put three more runs on the board in the fifth inning and one in the sixth to extend its lead to five runs, which proved to be a deficit too large for the Black and Gold to overcome in their final two at bats.
UCF looked to rally in the bottom of the sixth inning after loading the bases with two outs on a single by Jest, a fielder's choice, a walk allowed to Land and a single up the middle off the bat of McClain, but a foul out to the visiting team's shortstop stopped the Black and Gold's momentum.
The game was the last for the Knights' five seniors, McClain, Rojas, Schmitt, Tiffany Lane (Moreno Valley, Calif.) and Tawny Swan (Gilbert, Ariz.), who not only made their mark on the softball field in their time as members of the UCF softball team, but will also leave a lifetime of memories in the hearts of their fellow players, coaches, staff and fans.
"There have been so many highs and lows during my career but it's been an enjoyable roller coaster ride," McClain said. "When you are 12 years old, you always work toward playing in college and I am very happy I was able to do so. It's been amazing and I don't really think it has hit me yet."