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Willis Dominant as Comeback Bid Falls Short in Softball's 2-1 Loss to No. 2 Sooners

by Ryan Ladika

ORLANDO – Topping the first seven-inning perfect game in UCF softball’s program history is a high bar to clear, but in what could possibly be the final home start of her Knights career, Sarah Willis might have done it.

The senior right-hander turned in an exceptional performance in the circle for her squad in game two of UCF’s weekend series against the three-time defending national champion, and second-ranked, Oklahoma Sooners, but a late comeback bid fell just short in the Knights’ 2-1 loss Saturday afternoon.

Willis set the tone early and didn’t let up, going the distance while yielding just the Sooners’ two runs on two hits with five strikeouts. The effort marked her eighth complete game of the season and 18th of her career, all of which have come since she joined the Knights prior to the 2023 season.

The two hits allowed by Willis also represented a season-low for the Sooners, who hadn’t been held to two or fewer hits since four LSU Tiger pitchers combined to hold Oklahoma to two hits in a 3-0 Sooners win in Baton Rouge April 11, 2023.

Willis also became the first pitcher to throw a seven-inning complete game with two or fewer hits allowed to Oklahoma since Texas’ Hailey Dolcini handed the Sooners their first loss of the season, and snapped a then-40-game Oklahoma win streak, in Austin April 16, 2022, a game the then-No. 18 Longhorns took by a 4-2 final score.

“Sarah threw a phenomenal game. I’m really proud of how she led our team and put us on her back. She’s got some of the best stuff in the game, she’s fearless, and she’s one of the hardest-working two-way players I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with. She’s getting better every day in her time here.”

Head Coach Cindy Ball-Maloneon Sarah Willis' Saturday complete game

Willis hit the ground running in her latest outing, bringing a perfect game into the fourth inning before Oklahoma struck for its two runs on the strength of a solo home run by Tiare Jennings and an Ella Parker RBI double.

The Knights right-hander breezed through the top of the first inning with the first of her five punchouts accompanied by a pair of groundouts, and induced two more outs on the ground before adding her second punchout in the top of the second inning.

Her third punchout was sandwiched between a flyout and her fifth groundout in the top of the fourth, and after the Sooners broke through with their two runs with one out in the fourth, Willis stranded Parker with a flyout to center fielder Johneisha Rowe.

“I was working my pitches, working with my catcher Ashleigh (Griffin), and letting the defense work. I still had (four) walks, so minimizing those was crucial for me today. Really mixing my pitches and throwing my changeup alot to keep them guessing and off-balance, and playing my game. I had a good time being out there.”

RHP Sarah Willis

The right-hander worked around an error to throw a bounce-back scoreless fifth inning, tiptoed around a pair of walks in the sixth, and sealed her dominant outing with her fourth and fifth strikeouts of the day in the top of the seventh.

The Knights’ offensive corps, which had been quieted by Sooners left-hander Kierston Deal through six innings, mounted its final comeback try in the home half of the seventh inning.

Jada Cody reached base to lead off the frame on a fielding error by second baseman Avery Hodge, and after back-to-back fielder’s choice groundouts saw Kennedy Searcy on first base with two outs, Ball-Malone opted for graduate transfer Sona Halajian to come off the bench.

The San Anselmo, California, native missed a game-tying two-run home run by a matter of feet, but still drove in the Knights’ lone run with a high-arcing RBI double that eluded the catch of Oklahoma left fielder Hannah Coor up against the wall.

“My approach was just to see a good pitch, be on time, and I went up to the plate wanting to have Sarah’s back. She threw an absolutely amazing game like she does pretty much every game for us. When I hit it, I knew the wind was blowing that way. I thought it had a little more carry, but it scored a run.”

DP Sona Halajian

The double marked Halajian’s fifth pinch hit of the season, pulling the senior to a three-way tie with teammate Savannah Adams and Oklahoma State’s Katie Lott for second-most in the Big 12 Conference this spring.

“It’s really just about us working earlier and getting on them early,” Willis continued. “We did, but scoring early in the game so it doesn’t always have to be in the seventh inning. Against great teams like that, they’re not going to let you come back in the seventh every time. We just have to keep working and fighting, and find those runs earlier.”


The Knights look to send their seniors off with a win on Senior Day in the series finale against the No. 2 Sooners, with first pitch scheduled for 11 a.m. from the UCF Softball Complex. The contest will be streamed and televised nationally on ESPNU. 


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