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RV Softball Set for Tallahassee Regional

ORLANDO – On the strength of its season-long 13-game win streak and its second straight American Athletic Conference Tournament Championship, the (RV) UCF softball team is set for its weekend NCAA regional appearance hosted by the No. 3 Florida State Seminoles in Tallahassee, Florida, slated for May 19-21.

The Knights, boasting a 39-19 overall record and wins in 21 of their last 24 games dating back to the commencement of conference play against the Wichita State Shockers March 24, will make their 10th appearance in the NCAA tournament since their first in 2005. UCF will also be making its third trip to Tallahassee for the opening round of the NCAA postseason, all coming since 2015.

UCF, seeded third in the regional, will be joined by its Friday opponent, the South Carolina Gamecocks, and the Marist Red Foxes in Tallahassee this weekend. After finishing 20 games north of .500 following the conclusion of the conference tournament, the Knights enter the postseason ranked 43rd in the nation by the NCAA's RPI metric with 17 wins against RPI top-100 schools.

"I think we're prepared to play anybody," said head coach Cindy Ball-Malone. "In postseason, it doesn't really matter who you're playing, your best game is required. Really excited about the draw, excited to play somebody new and different that we haven't played this year. I think they're prepared and ready to go."

Though the 2023 squad has yet to face any of the three schools it will meet in Tallahassee this weekend, UCF can lean on the recent familiarity the program has with the top two seeded programs in its regional. The Knights have squared off against the Gamecocks five times over the past two seasons, going 2-3 against South Carolina in the home-and-home series, including a win when the Gamecocks were ranked No. 24 in the nation March 21, 2021.

UCF is also unbeaten in two all-time postseason matchups against South Carolina, topping the Gamecocks 4-1 and 5-2 in the team's first trip to Tallahassee for the NCAA regionals in 2015, to help bolster the Knights' 7-3 all-time record against South Carolina.

"A few of us on the team were at that Tally regional two years ago," said first baseman Shannon Doherty. "Having that experience and knowledge of what exactly to expect is going to be huge for us to be able to share that with the people who haven't been there before. That gives us a huge leg up to know what we're walking into before we get there."

UCF will be led into the postseason by AAC Pitcher of the Year, Tournament Most Outstanding Player, and All-Conference First-Teamer Sarah Willis, who has been among the more dominant arms in Division I softball throughout the second half of the season.

The right-hander boasts a conference-leading 1.46 ERA (138.2 IP, 29 ER) that ranks 25th in the country, having allowed just 4.59 hits per seven innings, a mark that ranks second in The American to teammate Grace Jewell's 4.56, has collected 115 strikeouts (second-most in the AAC), and leads the conference with 18 wins.

Her seven-inning complete-game shutout in the AAC Tournament semifinals against South Florida marked her fifth of the season and the Knights' 14th as a team, a mark that ranks first in The American and 20th in the nation. UCF's pitching staff has also produced a 1.75 strikeout-to-walk ratio through 58 games, a mark that ranks tied for second-best in the AAC with Wichita State.

Offensively, the Knights rank within the top two in The American in a myriad of statistical categories, including average (.296, 2nd), doubles (73, 2nd), on-base percentage (.365, 2nd), runs per game (5.0, 2nd) and slugging percentage (.459, 2nd).

The team largely has the Evans duo, Chloe and Aubrey, to thank for their standout offensive marks. Chloe enters the weekend regional looking to break a tie for fifth place on the UCF all-time single-season RBI list (45), and her 15 doubles rank tied for sixth place and one behind Aubrey's 16, which are good for a share of first on the UCF all-time single-season doubles list.

Aubrey, fresh off a selection to the AAC All-Conference Second Team and All-Rookie Team, also enters the weekend with the 10th-highest single-season on-base percentage in program history, at .436, in her first year of collegiate softball.

The Knights will first meet a Gamecocks squad Friday night that brings a 37-20 record, including a 9-15 mark within the SEC, into postseason play after going 3-1 in the SEC Tournament with wins over Texas A&M, No. 13 Georgia and No. 16 Auburn before falling to No. 4 Tennessee May 13. UCF will likely face South Carolina ace Donnie Gobourne, a senior right-hander who has accounted for 120.2 of the Gamecocks' 361.2 innings this season.

Gobourne boasts a team-best 2.15 ERA (37 ER) thus far and has racked up 189 punchouts, a mark that ranks third-most in the SEC and 27th in the nation. Her 11.0 strikeouts per seven innings pitched lead the conference and rank fourth-most in Division I softball.

With a win over the Gamecocks, a matchup with the winner of No. 3 Florida State and Marist would await UCF at 1 p.m. Saturday afternoon. The Seminoles, who represent the consensus third-ranked team in the nation among Week 14 national polls, have won 50 of their 58 games this season and swept their three contests in the AAC Tournament against Syracuse, No. 22 Virginia Tech and No. 9 Duke by a combined score of 15-3 to clinch their regional hosting privileges.

Florida State's pitching staff owns four hurlers who have recorded at least 44 innings while posting an ERA south of 2.60, headlined by Kathryn Sandercock's 1.16 ERA (151 IP, 25 ER) and Makenna Reid's 0.97 (72 IP, 10 ER).
At the plate, the Seminoles are among the most prolific in the nation, leading the country in doubles with 110 while pacing the ACC in on-base percentage (.410) and runs per game (6.29).

Marist, meanwhile, earned an automatic bid after going a perfect 4-0 in the MAAC Tournament, outscoring Iona, Mount St. Mary's and Canisius by a combined 18-10 in four games. The team has built its offense around its speed, as its 112 stolen bases rank 15th in the nation and first in the conference, and four players have recorded double-digit steals, led by Sam Freeland's 26 and Peyton Pusey's 21.

 Friday, May 19
Game 1: Florida State vs. Marist – 4:00 p.m.
Game 2: South Carolina vs. UCF – 7:00 p.m.

Saturday May 20
Game 3: Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2 – 1:00 p.m.
Game 4: Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2 – 3:30 p.m.
Game 5: Loser Game 3 vs. Winner Game 4 – 6:00 p.m.

Sunday May 21
Game 6: Regional Final – 4:00 p.m.
Game 7: Regional Final (if necessary) – 6:30 p.m.