In perhaps the biggest War on I-4 matchup of this sports season, the 3-seed UCF Knights knocked out the 2-seed South Florida Bulls 3-2 in the semifinals of the American Softball Championship behind a dominant relief performance by Gianna Mancha.
Mancha threw four innings of one-hit ball and struck out seven to put UCF one win away from their first conference crown since 2015.
It was billed as a pitcher’s duel between the two best hurlers in the conference, UCF’s Alea White and USF’s Georgina Corrick. But on a day when the wind was blowing out in Tulsa, both starters struggled.
Corrick gave up two to UCF in the first frame on her own error to put UCF up 2-0:
But White also scuffled, giving up a home run and an RBI double to tie the game in the third.
However, in the top of the 4th, UCF got a big blow from Karissa Ornelas, who roped a liner over the wall in center to give the Knights a 3-2 lead:
From there, head coach Cindy Ball-Malone made the risky move to yank the program’s all-time winningest pitcher, for Mancha, but it paid off. After giving up a single and a walk, Mancha struck out six straight Bulls, and allowed just a walk the rest of the way.
With the tying run on first with two down in the bottom of the 7th, Mancha forced a lineout to end it:
It’s a tremendous win for the program, as UCF made history against arguably the best coach-pitcher combo in the league:
Mancha spoke after the game about the circumstances under which she entered the game and was her usual calm, collected self:
Next up: Wichita State
The Knights now face one-seed Wichita State, who wrecked host Tulsa in the semis 9-4 in back of some big bats:
IF YOU COME AT LOLO YOU BEST NOT MISS.— Wichita State Softball (@GoShockersSB) May 15, 2021
A just blew this game wide open!
Our sixth grand slam of the season makes it 9-2. pic.twitter.com/E9H7btr86j
UCF lost three of four against Wichita in Orlando earlier this year.
The fourth game finished in a scoreless tie under strange circumstances. The game was called due to the Shockers needing to catch their flight back to Kansas despite UCF having the winning run on 3rd with one out in the bottom of the 11th. White had surrendered just two hits and two walks through those 11 frames.
Saturday’s American Softball Championship Game will be televised on ESPN2. First pitch is set for 2 p.m. ET.