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Softball Wins Series in Ames behind Willis Gem, Doherty and Cody Home Runs

by Ryan Ladika

AMES, Iowa – As the UCF softball team preps for its trip to Oklahoma City this week, senior right-hander Sarah Willis ensured her squad would bring its momentum with it.

Willis turned in another sparkling effort in her latest outing, throwing a seven-inning, two-hit, complete-game shutout to lead the Knights to a series-clinching 4-0 victory over the Iowa State Cyclones at Cyclone Sports Complex Sunday afternoon.

The victory marked UCF’s 30th of the spring campaign, locking up the program’s sixth consecutive 30-win campaign in non-COVID-19-abbreviated seasons dating back to the Black and Gold’s 34-22 slate in 2018.

The Knights also earned their 12th conference win of the year, and conclude their inaugural Big 12 Conference regular season with five series wins over Kansas, Texas Tech, BYU, Houston and Iowa State.

In leading her squad to its 30th win, Willis was masterful in authoring her fourth seven-inning complete game this season, as well as her second such outing with just two hits allowed in her last three appearances.

As her offense worked to gain traction, the right-hander began her afternoon outing by stranding a pair of Cyclones on base in the bottom of the first inning and spinning a clean second with a pair of strikeouts, including a strikeout-caught stealing double play completed by catcher Ashleigh Griffin and shortstop Jasmine Williams.

Willis notched her third strikeout in a perfect third inning and fanned her fourth Iowa State hitter between a groundout and flyout in the bottom of the fourth. The Black and Gold turned its second double play of the contest in the fifth, following Willis’ fifth punchout.

“Sarah’s a beast, we all know that,” said first baseman Shannon Doherty of her starter. “Today she really was able to get in rhythm, and our energy was way different today, and she feeds off that too. We have to learn from that for the upcoming games, because Sarah’s going to be a huge part of us going deep into postseason.”

With one out and a runner on first base after a leadoff walk, Iowa State right fielder Kali Gose hit a soft line drive to second baseman Aubrey Evans. The Knights sophomore made a quick exchange to flip the ball to Doherty and double off the Cyclones baserunner.

UCF’s offense was able to break through against Iowa State starter Karlie Charles in the top of the sixth, aided by a Cyclones fielding error to lead off the frame. With Evans on first base, pinch-hitter Stormy Kotzelnick laid down a well-executed sacrifice bunt to advance the Knights second baseman before Doherty strode to the plate.

The fifth-year senior slugged a 1-1 offering over the fence out to straightaway center field, marking her fifth home run of the season and second in her last four games to give UCF a 2-0 lead. The long ball also marked the 34th of her career, breaking a tie with Jania Shinhoster (2002-05) for third-most on the UCF all-time career home runs list.

“I’m not a huge stats person, but it truly is an honor to be up there in the record books with some well-known names,” Doherty added. “Those are some of the people who set the standard and the tone for this program. They made waves so that I could be the player who I am in this program today.”

Fellow fifth-year Jada Cody followed suit an inning later, pushing UCF’s lead to 4-0 with the squad’s second two-run homer in as many innings, as well as her second long ball of the series.

Cody’s latest home run also represented the 39th of her storied career, bringing her to within one of joining Knights Hall-of-Famer Stephanie Best as the second player in program history to hit 40 home runs with UCF.

The late-game offensive support came just in time for Willis, who worked around a one-out single in the bottom of the sixth with her sixth punchout of the game before finishing off her shutout with a perfect seventh inning.

The Knights right-hander in her last 10 outings, including nine starts, has now compiled an aggregate 1.57 ERA (12 ER) spanning 53.2 innings of work, limiting her opposition to a .168 batting average-against while racking up 38 strikeouts. She has tossed at least five innings eight times in that span, and has thrown at least six on six occations dating back to her five-inning effort against North Florida April 2.

“It’s huge to have some momentum going into the tournament,” Doherty continued. “We’re swinging hot bats right now, our defense is looking like it’s lock-down, and our pitchers look great. We have that confidence going into the tournament, knowing that we’re playing good softball when we’re supposed to be playing good softball.”


With the 2024 regular season now complete, the Knights will turn their attention to the Phillips 66 Big 12 Softball Championship in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma later this week. The owner of the conference’s fifth seed, UCF earned a bye to the tournament’s second round, and will meet the fourth-seeded Baylor Bears Thursday, May 9 at 8:30 p.m. ET. The contest will be streamed on Big 12 Now on ESPN+ from Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City.


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