Knights Drop Two in Doubleheader Loss to No. 24 South Carolina

ORLANDO – The No. 20 ranked UCF softball team couldn't catch a break Saturday afternoon in Columbia as the Knights dropped both games of a doubleheader to No. 24 South Carolina. The Knights lost 9-1 and 4-2 to move to 18-6 on the season.
When asked what she told the team following game two, Knights' head coach Cindy Ball-Malone said: "We have to be ourselves. We have to focus on what we are good at and stay consistent. Do what we do and do it well and the greatness will come.
"If you look at some of the bigger games that we have won this year, we just played solid and played well, so we need to get back to that."
UCF will have a chance to bounce back on Sunday as the two sides will play the final game of their three-game series at 1:00 p.m.

GAME ONE – UCF 1 // South Carolina 9

It was a battle early on Saturday afternoon as UCF and South Carolina were tied at one apiece headed into the fourth inning. Unfortunately, the Gamecocks would go on to score nine unanswered runs, including five in the fifth, to beat the Knights 9-1.
The Knights jumped out to an early lead in the first inning and starting pitcher Gianna Mancha was solid through the first three innings, allowing just one run on an RBI single to keep it a 1-1 game.
The majority of the Gamecocks' damage came in the fifth inning. Up 4-1, South Carolina posted three hits and took advantage of some wild UCF pitching that included two walks and two hit batters to post five runs in the inning, walking it off, 9-1, by virtue of run rule.
The Knights utilized three pitchers in the contest in Mancha, Grace Jewell and Angelina DeVoe. Macha (8-3) was credited with the loss after exiting down 4-1. She tossed four innings before Jewell took over. Jewell threw 0.1 innings, allowing five earned before giving way to DeVoe, who faced two batters, allowing a hit and walking one before the Gamecocks walked it off.
On the offensive side of the ball, UCF center fielder Kyra Klarkowski was 2-for-2 for her third multi-hit game of the season. Jada Cody was responsible for the Knights lone RBI of the game as she knocked in Georgia Blair in the top of the first to put UCF up 1-0. Unfortunately, the Knights would stall from there as South Carolina posted nine unanswered to go on to win 9-1.
"We didn't get some of the calls behind the plate that we wanted as a pitching staff, but I think when that happens, we need to do a better job of buckling down and throwing our pitch," said Ball-Malone. "When you face teams like this, you can't miss on a lot of pitches, especially with runners in scoring position."
Key Moments

  • The Knights took an early 1-0 lead after Jada Cody doubled to straight away center field to drive in Georgia Blair in the first inning.
  • The Gamecocks answered back in the bottom half of the inning with an infield single to drive in a run and tie the game at one apiece.
  • South Carolina pinch hitter Chooch Carrol singled up the middle to drive in a run and put her team up 2-1 in the fourth inning.
  • Gamecocks' backstop Jordan Fabian singled to drive in two more later in the inning, making it a 4-1 South Carolina lead.
  • Three hits, two walks and two hit-by-pitches would allow South Carolina to post a five-run fifth inning, walking it off, 9-1.

GAME TWO – UCF 2 // South Carolina 4

Knights' head coach Cindy Ball-Malone called on UCF all-time wins leader Alea White to start in game two. White was solid in the circle for UCF, allowing just four earned runs in six innings pitched. Unfortunately, she was outmatched by South Carolina starter Leah Powell, who tossed a gem for the Gamecocks as she held the Knights to just two runs (one earned) and tossed a complete game to lead South Carolina to the 4-2 victory.
The Gamecocks jumped out to an early 2-0 lead courtesy of a two-run home run in the second and never relinquished their lead from there, going on to win 4-2. With the loss, White moved to 9-1 on the season.
Jazmine Esparza was a bright spot for the Knights' lineup in game two. The senior from Sylmar, California was 2-for-3, including a solo home run and a double in the seventh that seemed to be a spark to the Knights' lineup at the time. Esparza now leads the Knights on the season with a .441 batting average. She also has three home runs and eight doubles in 68 at-bats.
"I like how we came out in game two after how the first game went," said Ball-Malone. "I think [Alea] threw one of her better games of the year, minus one pitch and one miss-play on defense... We just have to play like a more seasoned and experienced team instead of trying to impress in certain situations, and I think that is just going to come over time with this group."

Key Moments

  • A two-run home run from South Carolina designated player Cayla Drotar would put the Gamecocks up 2-0 in the second inning.
  • Jazmine Esparza hit a solo shot in the third to cut the UCF deficit to 2-1.
  • South Carolina would take advantage of a UCF error in the third to go up 3-1.
  • Later in the inning, an RBI single would extend the South Carolina lead to 4-1.
  • The Knights took advantage of a South Carolina error to make it a 4-2 game in the fifth inning.

The Knights will wrap up the series with the Gamecocks with a 1:00 p.m. first pitch on Sunday, March 21.
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