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UCF Softball Impresses at St. Pete-Clearwater Invitational

Knights go 2-4 but pick up huge win over No. 9 Texas

Gianna Mancha Softball
Gianna Mancha
Image Courtesy: UCF Athletics

It was an up-and-down week for #24 UCF in their debut in the St. Pete-Clearwater Invitational, as the Knights went 2-4 with losses to Wisconsin, #16 Michigan, #15 Tennessee, and #6 Florida State.

But the Knights also got their second Top-25 win of the season, knocking off #9 Texas 15-10 Saturday night. Overall UCF is 6-5.

Let’s go around the bases for my thoughts on the week that was.

1st: UCF Goes 2-0 vs. Big 12

UCF made a good impression this weekend on their future conference mates with a 7-3 win over Texas Tech in eight innings on Friday night and a 15-10 win over #9 Texas on Saturday night. Both wins came in come-from-behind fashion.

On Friday night, UCF was down 2-0 to the Red Raiders before Shannon Doherty got the offense going:

The game would go into extra innings before Jada Cody gave the Knights the lead for good in the 8th:

The Knights would add three more runs, which were more than enough for Gianna Mancha, who was electric in relief, pitching four scoreless innings. She didn’t give up any hits and struck out 10 batters to get the win. The victory was Cindy Ball-Malone’ 200th for her career as a head coach.

But that was nowhere near as chaotic as the win over #9 Texas, where the Knights found themselves down 3-1 early before freshman Ashleigh Griffin hit her first career home run to tie the game up at 3-3.

This game had it all, including 11 combined errors and UCF throwing out four Texas baserunners at home plate. The Knights found themselves down 9-7 in the 6th inning before offense exploded for six runs to take a 13-9 lead.

Angelina DeVoe got her first career win in relief, going 3.2 innings and giving up just one run to give the Knights the win. 15 runs is the most any Knight team has ever scored against a Top-25 opponent.

That brings up the first of many questions from our readers following the game:

The answer is yes.

First, let’s not forget the Knights went 3-4 this week against the strongest schedule any Knight team has ever played, facing four ranked Top-25 teams, plus a former Top-25 team in Liberty who is a heavy favorite to win the A-Sun and a Wisconsin team that likely will be in the mix for a Top-25 spot this season.

The Knights got a marquee Top-25 win over Texas to go along with the win earlier this season against Georgia. The two wins in tournament play is more than Texas and Texas Tech combined. It is also as many wins as LSU, Tennessee, Michigan, Oklahoma State recorded.

Many young UCF players grew up through this week, overcoming adversity and coming up big in key situations. This will benefit many of them moving forward.

2nd: ESPN’s Amanda Scarborough Was Impressed with UCF

The Texas game, which aired on Longhorn Network, was called by Beth Mowins, Michele Smith, and Amanda Scarborough, who are the marquee team for ESPN’s softball coverage. It is the first time all three have called a UCF game.

For those that do not follow softball, Scarborough is to softball what Kirk Herbstreit is to football. A two-time All-American at Texas A&M prior to joining ESPN in 2009, she had the following to say to Black and Gold Banneret about the Knights following the win over Texas:

“UCF plays with fire, no matter their opponent and no matter the score. Their offense is balanced with power & speed and their young, talented players are sure to develop throughout the season.”

3rd: Savannah Adams Was Clutch

In the two wins over the Texas schools, freshman Savannah Adams was big with two huge hits.

First, in Friday night’s win over Texas Tech, Adams went two-for-four in the game, including a big two-RBI hit in the 8th inning:

Adams delivered again on Saturday night with the Knights down 9-7 in the 6th, tying the game with a two-RBI single up the middle:

Adams went three-for-five with five RBI the two wins. She could prove to be a weapon that the Knights will find useful in the starting lineup.

Home: What Did We Learn This Week?

Let me start with the question still left unanswered for me, which is the defense.

UCF is very young at catcher and shortstop. When Jada Cody plays catcher, they are playing a freshman at third base. That is a lot of youth, and it showed this weekend as UCF committed 11 errors in the six games, not to mention some passed balls and wild pitches that led to runs allowed. It’s tough to beat Top-25 teams when you give them extra outs.

Case in point: In Sunday’s loss to Florida State, the Noles scored four runs in the 3rd, sparked by an error.

Those are part of the growing pains a team will go through when playing a lot of youth. It shows on defense and on offense at times as well, which results in some ups and downs we have seen which sometimes effects the offense and pitching which addresses this reader question.

The encouraging thing is team showed the promise it has. Shortstop Micaela Macario has shown what a playmaker she is on defense with great plays that make SportsCenter:

Macario had three steals and drove two runs in the win over Texas. Griffin, as we discussed earlier, hit her first homer. This production is all from freshmen. They will all get better.

The starting pitching has been encouraging as well. Reader Jackie Cokeroft, who is a former softball player, sent in the following question:

“Who is going to be leaned on to throw most innings on the staff?”

Mancha is the ace, but Woodall is capable of throwing a lot as both a starter and reliever. UCF also likes the depth they have with what we have seen from freshman Kaitlyn Felton and sophomore Angelina DeVoe, who got the win against Texas in relief. Sophomore Grace Jewell is another bright spot. She threw 5.2 innings against #15 Tennessee on Saturday, giving up just two earned runs.

Softball pitching staffs are more common in the game now than a decade ago when you could depend on one or two pitchers, especially early in a season with so many games.

On Deck: UCF will travel to Miami to take on FIU on Wednesday before hosting Ole Miss, James Madison who made the WCWS last year, DePaul, and Top 5 ranked Florida next weekend.