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Softball Splits Knights Classic Opener with 10-2 win over Princeton, 4-2 loss to No. 22 Gamecocks

by Ryan Ladika
  • Game 1
  • Game 2
Box Score

ORLANDO – In its return home from its six-game swing through the Golden State last weekend, the UCF softball team split its first two games of its second home tournament, kicking off the Knights Classic with a 10-2 run-rule victory over the Princeton Tigers before falling in a narrow pitchers’ duel to the No. 22 South Carolina Gamecocks, 4-2, at the UCF Softball Complex Friday evening.

Leading her team against its fifth top 25-ranked opponent of the 2024 campaign in Friday’s nightcap, right-hander Sarah Willis was up for the challenge, going toe-to-toe with the reigning 2023 NFCA Second Team All-America selection Alana Vawter.

Willis spun three consecutive hitless frames to begin her fifth start of the spring, and yielded only one through four as the two squads were deadlocked in a scoreless stalemate.

The Gamecocks (16-2) scratched across the game’s first tally in the fifth, but Willis limited the damage, allowing only her second hit of the night in the inning before again holding South Carolina’s offense quiet in the sixth.

After the Gamecocks widened their lead to four with a three-run seventh, UCF (9-7) mounted its final rally, plating a pair of runs on a Shannon Doherty single to left field that halved the Knights’ deficit in the bottom half.

The Black and Gold were unable to gain more offensive traction following the first baseman’s timely hit, leaving UCF still in search of its first ranked win of the 2024 slate.

“I liked our at-bats in the seventh inning,” said head coach Cindy Ball-Malone. “We started to really trust ourselves and stick to our plan. It’s good momentum going into our next game and it’s something to work from and work toward using those last at-bats that we had.”

In stymieing the Gamecocks, though, Willis clinched her second appearance in her last three with at least six innings pitched, and has yielded three or fewer runs in seven of her eight outings this spring. She also added four strikeouts to her ledger after entering the day’s action boasting the fifth-most strikeouts of any pitcher in the Big 12 (33).

“Both of them threw well enough to win,” Ball-Malone said of the day’s two starters, Willis and Kaitlyn Felton. “Felton did a great job in game one, and then Sarah, we gave up five hits, but they gave up five hits. It’s a game of inches, we’re a few inches in the wrong spot sometimes.”

The Knights kicked off the evening’s action with an explosive display against the Princeton Tigers (5-1), notching the squad’s fourth run-rule victory of the season and its third in just five innings.

UCF did it on the strength of a six-run second frame, an inning that featured 11 home at-bats and only four hits, as a pair of Princeton errors also aided the Knights in hanging their crooked number.

Senior right fielder Chloe Evans, already with a bunt single to her name in the first inning, came through with the bases loaded in the second, plating Sona Halajian, Aubrey Evans and Jada Cody with a bloop double that popped out of the glove of the Tigers right fielder in shallow center field.

The knock contributed to her third three-hit game of the season, with her final knock of the game coming in the bottom of the fifth inning to score UCF’s 10th run of the game and end the contest via the run-rule. With her game-ending single, Evans also clinched her third four-RBI game of the season, joining her efforts against Wisconsin Feb. 16 and Howard Feb. 8.

“We used the entire field and played our game,” Ball-Malone said of the win over Princeton. “What I would have hoped is we would have done that same thing going into the South Carolina game. The moment we start to trust in ourselves in going through it, I think we’re going to be in a really good spot.”

Fifth-year utility player Jada Cody also enjoyed a prolific offensive day against the Tigers, registering her seventh multi-hit game of the season and her third with at least three hits.

Felton cruised through four innings in the circle, meanwhile, allowing only one Tigers hit before Princeton managed a pair of runs in the fifth inning. Southpaw Angelina DeVoe, who entered the weekend’s action boasting the fewest hits allowed per seven innings pitched in NCAA Division I softball, entered the game in relief of Felton and collected the final three defensive outs to set the stage for Evans’ game-ender in the home half.


UCF continues play in the 2024 Knights Classic with a second game against Princeton, originally scheduled for 5:30 p.m. now moved up to a 2 p.m. scheduled start in anticipation of inclement weather. The game will be streamed on ESPN+.


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