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Softball Falls in Pitchers' Duel with No. 4 Cowgirls, 2-0

by Ryan Ladika

Stillwater, Okla. – The UCF softball team enjoyed another strong start by right-hander Sarah Willis, but its offensive struggles continued to plague the squad in its 2-0 series-opening loss to the No. 4 Oklahoma State Cowgirls at Cowgirl Stadium Friday night.

With the loss, the Knights (14-9, 2-2 Big 12) fell to 2-2 in Big 12 Conference play and have been held scoreless in back-to-back contests dating back to the team’s 1-0 defeat in its series finale against the Kansas Jayhawks March 10.

“They’re a team that’s been to postseason, they’ve been to the World Series, they’re a seasoned team,” said head coach Cindy Ball-Malone of the Cowgirls (22-3, 3-1 Big 12). “We out-hit them, we just didn’t get the hits when the runners were on. Sarah threw a great game, well enough to win.”

Willis, making her first outing in the circle since tossing her seven-inning complete game in UCF’s series-opening win over Kansas March 8, impressed in her second career appearance against Oklahoma State.

The right-hander limited the fourth-ranked Cowgirls to just two runs on three hits with four strikeouts in six frames, marking her third complete game of the season and her second in as many starts.

After allowing a walk and an RBI single in the bottom of the first inning, Willis grew stronger throughout her evening start.

Oklahoma State mustered just a pair of walks and a single between the second and fifth innings before tagging the UCF starter for a solo home run to center field to lead off the sixth inning, representing the last of the damage done by the home team’s offensive efforts.

Dating back to her 4.2-inning relief appearance against the then-No. 5 Tennessee Lady Vols Feb. 24, Willis has tossed a team-leading 27.2 innings while posting a team-best 2.02 ERA (8 ER), 26 strikeouts and a .182 batting average against.

That span includes three ranked opponents (Tennessee, then-No. 22 South Carolina and Oklahoma State), as well as a Jayhawks team that entered the matchup with the Knights riding a 10-game win streak.

“You have to have a next-pitch mentality,” Willis said. “You have to have a short-term memory (with mistakes) because if you take that pitch on, it’s going to be pitch after pitch and you’re not going to be able to forget about it. You just have to be the best for the next pitch.”

Designated player Stormy Kotzelnick paced the Black and Gold offensively with a 2-for-3 showing at the plate, notching her second multi-hit game in her last three contests after going 2-for-2 in helping lead UCF to its 3-2 walk-off win over Kansas March 9.

“We were one swing away from being tied up in that game,” Ball-Malone continued. “That was the only solid hit, I felt, off of Sarah when facing the No. 4 team in the nation. She threw her tail off and did exactly what she was supposed to do. I don’t think the sixth inning happens if our offense supports a little bit more early in the game.”


The Knights look to even the series with No. 4 Oklahoma State in game two, slated for 3 p.m. ET from Cowgirl Stadium. The game will be streamed on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.


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