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Softball Tops Stetson, 4-2, behind Evans Homer, Strong Halajian Start

by Ryan Ladika

ORLANDO – When UCF second baseman Aubrey Evans clubbed a 1-0 offering from Hatters starter Hannah Marien down the left field line in the bottom of the first inning, she and Knights starting pitcher Sona Halajian had vastly different expectations for its outcome.

“I honestly thought it was a foul ball,” Evans recalled. “I knew the distance was right, but I didn’t know if it was going to be fair or foul.”

“I had no doubt. I never have a doubt,” Halajian said with a smile. “The second the ball comes off the barrel, it doesn’t matter if it is in the middle of the outfield. I have no doubt in every single one of our players.”

Fortunately for her squad, Halajian’s intuition proved correct, as Evans’ fly ball ricocheted off the left field foul pole, representing an instrumental two-run home run in UCF’s (12-7) 4-2 home victory over the visiting Stetson Hatters (7-14) Wednesday night.

“They’re a solid team, that pitcher’s really good,” head coach Cindy Ball-Malone said of the Hatters. “I love how we came out with our plan, Jada double, Aubrey home run. That gives our pitcher the edge of being able to pitch very free. Sona did a great job tonight.”

Prior to Evans’ big first-inning hit, third baseman Jada Cody led off the game with a double off the left-center field fence, the first of her two doubles in what would result in a perfect 3-for-3 showing at the plate with a run scored.

With a pair of two-baggers, Cody continued closing in on the UCF all-time career doubles record, and as the owner of 47 in her career now sits just three shy of tying Jania Shinhoster’s 50 atop the all-time list.

She also notched her fourth game this season with at least three hits, and in the Knights’ first five contests of their current eight-game homestand, is hitting .643/.667/1.000 (9-for-14) with three doubles, one triple and two RBI.

Evans followed with her second home run of the spring, and the first of her now-four career long balls on her home turf at the UCF Softball Complex.

The early run support, coupled with a strong defensive showing behind her that featured a third-inning 6-4-3 double play turned by Evans, shortstop Jasmine Williams and first baseman Shannon Doherty, allowed Halajian to cruise through five scoreless innings yielding just a pair of Stetson hits.

“I love our defense,” Halajian added. “I love watching them play in practice every day, I stand on the sidelines with our other pitchers and I’m just watching them thinking, ‘Wow, you guys are awesome.’ Jas with a really big play in the hole, and Shannon with a pick saved us. Everyone had great moments throughout the night.”

Stetson rallied for two scores in the top of the sixth inning, but the Knights were quick to respond, scratching across a pair in the home half on a pair of ground balls by Doherty and Johneisha Rowe that followed a single by Sierra Humphreys and a Chloe Evans double to retake their two-run advantage.

Humphreys’ sixth-inning single marked her second knock of the contest and gave the freshman utility player her third consecutive multi-hit game while boosting her line during UCF’s current homestand to a team-best .875/.889/1.500 (7-for-8), accompanied by one triple, one home run, four runs scored, six RBI and 12 total bases.

“We talked about that after the game, that was huge,” Aubrey said of the Knights’ sixth-inning rally. “That shows that we can fight when we need to, turn things around and take the momentum into our hands late in the game. Seeing that late in the game, that’s huge for us starting conference play this weekend.”

The relief tandem of Grace Jewell and Kaitlyn Felton combined to allow just one hit and one walk in two frames following Halajian’s departure, with Felton nailing down her first save of the season and the third of her career.

Felton’s airtight seventh frame included a pair of strikeouts, boosting her season total to 23, and represented her seventh appearance of her first eight this spring with two or fewer runs allowed.

“It’s all of our hard work that’s going to pay off, and we’re ready to get after it and dive into it,” Ball-Malone said of the Knights’ upcoming Big 12 opener. “It’s time to play ball. We’re really excited to get after it tomorrow and work on our plan of attack from all angles, all sides of the ball and put it in motion in the game.”


The Knights open their inaugural Big 12 Conference slate with a three-game weekend home series against the Kansas Jayhawks March 8-10. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday and 12 p.m. Sunday, and all three games will be streamed live on ESPN+.


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