Lately, the Knights have been doing a great job of doing everything well – hitting, pitching and fielding.
Don’t look now, but UCF is one of the hottest teams around. The Knights (26-10, 6-3) completed a weekend sweep of the visiting East Carolina Pirates (15-20, 3-6) on Sunday with a 4-3 win.
UCF has now won six games in a row and 10 of its last 11 contests.
“ECU has always been a tough competition for us every year,” head coach Renee Luers-Gillispie said. “I thought the girls did a great job by putting the ball in play and making little things happen.”
Sunday’s game saw pitcher Ali Schmidt help the Knights grind out a 4-3 win, holding off an ECU rally after UCF had led 3-0 early on. Schmidt went for 6 2/3 innings and had two strikeouts on the day to earn her seventh win of the season.
Natalie Land two-for-three at the plate with a home run, an RBI, two runs scored and a stolen base.
East Carolina’s Courtney Smith picked up the loss for the Pirates.
Freshman pitcher Mackenzie Audas came in briefly to relieve Schmidt but was pulled after surrendering a run.
Audas had been battling flu-like symptoms all weekend, but that didn’t stop the true freshman from pitching her fourth consecutive shutout in Game Two of the weekend series, a game the Knights won, 2-0.
“She came out and worked hard through not feeling 100 percent out there on the mound, and I’m really proud of her hanging in there through seven innings,” Gillispie said.
Audas (13-5) lowered her Conference USA-leading ERA to 1.09 and increased her league-leading strikeout total to 143.
Vanessa Perez and Tawny Swan each had crucial at-bats for UCF, picking up the respective RBI for the Knights.
Schmidt pitched for the Knights in Game One of the doubleheader, giving up two runs off seven hits with three strikeouts.
The Pirates took an early lead in the second, but UCF bounced back with three runs of its own in the third and five in the sixth.
Perez had a big game for the Knights with two runs, two hits and three RBIs. Catcher Alena Murgatroyd added a hit and two RBI.
“I love watching [Perez] and [Land] in the one-two spots [in the batting order],” Gillispie said. "The two of them, with Natalie getting on and stealing second and putting herself in scoring position, it’s almost like routine now for the two of them [hitting] back-to-back, making big plays.
“It’s good seeing those seniors stepping up for us and being leaders out there.”
UCF will now have a few days off before making the long trip to Texas to face the UTEP Miners (12-23, 2-9) on Friday and Saturday. The Knights’ next home game will undeniably be the biggest of the year, with the No. 4 Florida Gators visiting the UCF Softball Complex on April 11.
Audas battles flu, garners praise
With Audas under the weather for the weekend series with the Pirates, it made her shutout on Saturday all the more notable. The Plant City native has been nothing less than impressive throughout her rookie season with UCF.
“She’s stepping up, and it’s awesome seeing the whole team come together [as a result],” Perez said.
The performance from Audas, who recently was named Conference USA’s Pitcher of the Week, came with some aid from her teammates on the field.
“She got a lot of support with her teammates,” Gillispie said. “They came in with big hits when we needed them and big plays defensively when we needed them.”
Audas said that she was just trying to take it inning by inning and make her pitches.
“It makes me feel good about my accomplishments so far,” Audas said. “It makes me want to keep working hard to continue my success.”