UCF departs early from Conference USA tournament
Knights hope for at-large bid to NCAA Tournament
Published: Sunday, May 13, 2012
Updated: Sunday, May 13, 2012 16:05
Just 11 days earlier, the UCF Knights softball team had been wrapping up a weekend sweep of the Houston Cougars. The Knights had been dominant, outscoring the Cougars 14-4 over the weekend.
Unfortunately, when compared to the one-and-done, single-elimination format of tournament play, the regular season doesn’t count for much.
UCF (39-17, 15-9) has this understood, following a first-round departure from the Conference USA tournament at the hands of Houston (34-22, 15-9) in Birmingham, Ala. The Knights fought hard last Thursday to come back from a three-run deficit, yet inevitably still fell to the Cougars, 6-2.
With a reputable offense at its disposal, Houston secured the win by rattling freshman Mackenzie Audas, in the standout pitcher’s shortest outing of the season. The Cougars racked up six runs on six hits and five walks in just 4 2/3 innings, including a three-run homer off the bat of Houston’s catcher, Haley Outon.
The silver lining in this loss for UCF saw key contributors continuing their hot streaks. Senior Ali Schmidt pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings in relief, lowering her season ERA to 1.61. Freshman Farrah Sullivan went 2-for-3 with a double, and senior Vanessa Perez picked up an RBI on a fielder’s choice groundout.
Perez finished her senior season with career highs in batting average (.281) and RBIs (23).
Those positives to take away from the loss may be needed going forward, as the Knights are hopeful that their season didn’t end in Birmingham.
“I’m proud of the fact that despite falling behind early, we battled and got a couple of runs back as we tried to rally,” head coach Renee Luers-Gillispie said in a release. “We knew Houston had a very good hitting team, and they showed that today. We didn’t close the season the way we wanted last weekend and today, but hopefully our resume will be good enough to get into regionals.”
It is a resume with impressive bullet points. UCF defeated the Florida Gators, a team that was ranked No. 3 in the nation, at home for the first time in school history. The Knights ranked in the top 50 themselves, flirting with cracking the top-25 polls toward the end of the season. UCF enjoyed two 10-game winning streaks over the course of the regular season and, after dropping six consecutive games early in the season, rallied to win 16 of its next 19 contests, showcasing a resiliency that served the team well all season.
The NCAA Softball Championship Regionals begin play on May 17, and the Knights are hoping for an at-large bid.