“Protect the Plex.”
That is the saying for the UCF Knights when they play at the UCF Softball Complex, and that is exactly what the Knights did this weekend, taking 3 of 4 games from the rival South Florida Bulls and denying the Bulls a chance to win the regular season title.
The Knights won the series fittingly on Senior Day, where 11 seniors were honored, beating the Bulls 2-0 to finish the regular season at 37-16-1. The 37 wins is the most by the Knights since 2016, which was the last time UCF made the NCAA Tournament.
The Knights’ two runs on Sunday came off one swing of the bat by senior center fielder Kyra Klarkowski, who hit a two-run home run in the second inning to put UCF up. The home run was Klarkowksi’s first of the season in her final game at the UCF Softball Complex.
The two runs were all the support UCF senior starting pitcher Alea White would need to get the job done in the circle. In her final career start at the UCF Softball Complex, White dominated the Bulls with six strikeouts. allowing just three hits while holding the Bulls scoreless in 6.2 innings to pick up her 2nd win of the series and 4th of her career against the Bulls.
In one of more memorable moments of Senior Day in UCF Softball history, White was pulled for senior Gianna Mancha, exiting to a standing ovation. Mancha recorded the final out for the save. White moved to 19-6 on the year and pick up the 96th win of her legendary career.
The weekend did not get off to a good start, as White lost a pitchers’ duel to Bulls star pitcher Georgina Corrick 2-0 on Friday night.
Then they were down 3-2 going into bottom of the 7th in the second game of the series on Saturday against Corrick, who had not lost a game with a lead in 38 consecutive starts. But the Knights would rally as Allyse Volpe hit a double to left field with one out and following a Denali Schappacher infield single. The Knights had two on and one out with Jada Cody at the plate. Corrick would throw a wild pitch that scored Volpe from third to tie the game at 3-3. On the next pitch, UCF Head Coach Cindy Ball-Malone called a squeeze with 2 strikes, which Cody executed, scoring Schappacher from third to complete the comeback. Schappacher’s run was the 100th of her career, making her the 9th Knight to reach the milestone.
The Bulls, who needed three wins to win the conference regular season crown, would not recover, as UCF dominated the second game on Saturday, 9-1 in 5 innings, giving Wichita State the regular season title.
The Knights will head to Tulsa as the No. 3 seed in the American Athletic Conference Championship and will play East Carolina at noon Eastern on Thursday.
The Knights could see the Bulls again if both teams advance to the semifinals. South Florida finished ahead of UCF in the standings despite the Knights winning the series, since the Bulls having a better win percentage with a 16-7 record in The American against the Knights’ 16-7-1.
But unlike the Bulls, who will need wins this week to make the NCAA Tournament, the Knights will be in the dance for the first time since 2016, with their likely destination being Gainesville or Tallahassee. The Knights will officially find out Sunday night at 9 p.m.
But first things first as the Knights will be looking for the second AAC Tournament Championship (2015) in program history this week.