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Softball Records Largest NCAA Tournament Comeback in 11-6 win over Auburn

by Ryan Ladika

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – “Anytime there are still outs left in the game, the Knights are still in it.”

First baseman Shannon Doherty and her team kept the faith and their belief. Their reward?

The largest NCAA Tournament comeback win in program history.

The UCF softball team rode the momentum of its two-out offense all afternoon, scoring nine times in the final three innings to erase a four-run deficit and claim its postseason opener, 11-6, over the Auburn Tigers at Florida State’s JoAnne Graf Field Friday evening.

The winning effort marked UCF’s highest-ranked win of the season by the NCAA’s RPI metric, as Auburn entered the tournament slotted at No. 24, as well as the squad’s second all-time postseason victory over the Tigers in as many opportunities.

UCF also extended its streak of NCAA Tournament-opening wins to six, as the Knights previously emerged victorious in their first tournament action in 2023, 2022, 2021, 2016 and 2015.

“Our plan was to come out attacking, and I thought we did just that. You take away the second inning, and I think we played exactly how we were supposed to. Sarah Willis and Kaitlyn Felton have all year held us in some tight games, and it was the hitters’ turn to pick it up for them.”

Head coach Cindy Ball-Malone

The Knights’ offensive corps did just that.

Three home runs by Doherty, shortstop Jasmine Williams and third baseman Sierra Humphreys powered UCF’s four-run comeback, an offensive showing that included eight runs scored with two outs on the scoreboard.


“I think that’s exactly what was said, just chip away,” Doherty continued. “We had a lot of game left at that point, and we knew that.”

The first two chips came in the top of the fifth inning. With her squad in a 6-2 ditch, fifth-year utility player Jada Cody roped a one-out double to left-center field. Sona Halajian followed with an RBI single, and Chloe Evans trimmed Auburn’s lead to two with her second run-scoring knock of the contest.

With the Knights two runs closer in the sixth, Johneisha Rowe hit a one-out single and stole second base just before Aubrey Evans drew a five-pitch walk. Doherty was next, and she hammered the second pitch she saw over the left field wall to give UCF its first lead since Chloe Evans’ two-run double in the top of the first inning.

The long ball marked Doherty’s sixth of the season and extended her hit streak to four straight games. In her last 20 contests dating back to UCF’s series-opener against BYU April 4, Doherty improved her line to .392/.537/.667 (20-for-51) with two doubles, four home runs, 13 RBI and 34 total bases.

“I was on deck, and I knew I was going to come up with runners in scoring position. I was getting a little excited and amped up, and I heard Aubrey Evans’ dad from the crowd say ‘HS2KC,’ which means Holy Spirit to keep calm. It really settled me down in that moment, and I knew that whatever was going to happen out there, was going to be for the betterment of the team. It was a really special moment for me.”

First Baseman Shannon Doherty

UCF was far from finished. After Halajian and Chloe Evans roped two more two-out singles, Williams clubbed her second homer of the season and the Knights’ second three-run shot of the inning out to straightaway center field, ballooning her squad’s lead to 10-6.

“What really helped was when Coach Bear pulled me aside and she told me ‘The mama lion is the fiercest of them all,’” Williams said. “That resonated so much with me, and in that moment I took a deep breath and trusted my swing. It went my way.”

All-Big 12 Freshman Team selection Sierra Humphreys tacked on one more in the top of the seventh inning, hitting her first collegiate postseason home run, her third of the season, and her first since March 28 at Texas Tech.

The efforts of Halajian and Chloe Evans represented a key sparkplug in the Knights’ comeback as well, as the pair combined for seven hits in eight at-bats. Chloe notched her first career four-hit game in driving in a pair, while Halajian recorded her fourth consecutive multi-hit game, a single-game season-high three hits, and her first three-hit game since March 5, 2022 with California.


The late-inning rally took the pressure off of Willis, who after yielding four runs in the third inning in relief, settled in to her first outing of the tournament with four consecutive scoreless frames to ice the Knights’ 31st win of the season.

She notched her first strikeout of the afternoon in a scoreless fourth, stranded a leadoff double in the fifth with two more punchouts, fanned two in the sixth, and induced a 5-3 double play in a spotless seventh.

“I don’t have to talk to Sarah much, because she knows she’s good,” Ball-Malone said of Willis. “I told her, ‘You’re staying out there, you’re getting yourself out of this, I know you can.’ Maybe that’s what she needed to get through, because she’s played and pitched so well this year. She can turn it on when she needs to, and when they scored the runs for her, she smelled the barn and just kept going.”


Following UCF’s comeback victory, the Knights will clash with the No. 12 Florida State Seminoles Saturday afternoon for a trip to Sunday's Regional Final. First pitch is slated for 1 p.m. ET from JoAnne Graf Field.


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