UCF Knights Softball concluded the Knight Classic Tournament with a 3-0 win over Oakland on Monday night to finish 4-1 on the weekend and 11-6 overall the season.
Let’s go around the bases for my thoughts on the weekend.
1st: Shannon Doherty is a fan favorite
Shannon Doherty did it again! Doherty hit a 3-run walk-off home run against Ole Miss to give UCF a 6-3 win in front of a rowdy crowd of near 1,000 people.
The homer completed a comeback that started back in the bottom of the 6th, where the Knights scored a pair of runs with 2 outs to tie it up.
It is the second time Doherty went viral on social media as Doherty’s walk off in the bottom of the 8th on opening night vs. No. 19 Georgia on February 10 also went viral.
Doherty has become a household name in the softball world, even among non-softball fans. Doherty has a flair for the dramatic, reminiscent of McKenzie Milton, that Knights fans love. Right now, Shannon Doherty is face of UCF Softball.
2nd: UCF throws 4 shutouts in last 6 games
Overshadowed by Doherty’s walk-off homer and a barnburner against Florida, the Knights have thrown four shutouts in the last six games, including three at the Knights Classic.
Gianna Mancha was responsible for two of those shutouts: a one-hitter in a 5-inning shutout at FIU on 2/23 that UCF won 11-0, and a 3-0 win over Oakland where she allowed 5 hits in a pitcher’s duel with Oakland’s ace, Sydney Campbell.
Mancha now has 8 career shutouts as a Knight, passing Taylor Sawyer for 8th all-time at UCF.
“Gianna looked a lot like herself today,” said UCF head coach Cindy Ball-Malone following the Knights’ win over Oakland.
On Saturday, freshman Kaitlyn Felton and sophomore Grace Jewell each threw their 1st career shutouts in wins over James Madison and DePaul respectively.
Felton was lights out against JMU, throwing a two-hit, complete-game shutout, striking out a career-best five batters as the Knights run-ruled the 2021 WCWS participant, 11-0, in 5 innings. Felton made the AAC weekly honor roll announced on Monday.
Jewell followed Felton’s performance with her first career complete game, striking out six while walking just one and throwing a 4-hit shutout to beat the defending Big East regular season champion DePaul. The six strikeouts are a career best in a single game. It was part of a big week for Jewell who hit a pinch-hit grand slam in the Knights’ win over FIU.
In my opinion. Saturday was the most significant day of the tournament from the standpoint of Felton and Jewell continuing to develop and show they can be the future of the program in the circle.
SS: Micaela Macario Shows Off Her Bat
Macario was named the AAC Player of the Week on Monday after hitting .462 for the week and batting 10 runs in. Macario is the 3rd freshman to win AAC Player or Pitcher of the Week, joining Jada Cody (2020) and Alea White (2017).
Macario drove in 3 runs in the Ole Miss win, including a huge 2-out 2-RBI hit in the bottom of the 6th that tied the game up, 3-3.
Macario followed that up with driving in 6 runs in the win over JMU on Saturday.
Macario is the 4th freshman shortstop in UCF history to start from opening day, joining Stephanie Best (2002), Tiffany Lane (2008), and Brittany Solis (2014). A couple of former UCF players have told me that watching Macario play reminded them of Lane, who had a knack for big moments which included a 2-run HR in the 2008 C-USA championship game at No. 9 Houston. After thinking about it, I tend to agree.
3rd: UCF has confidence vs. Florida
After a 3-hour, 40-minute slugfest that saw 23 runs on 27 hits, 18 walks, and 8 steals combined between the Gators and Knights. It was the highest-scoring game all-time in the rivalry between the two schools that played for 30th time, but the first time at a UCF tournament in front of the 3rd-largest crowd in program history of 1,152. It was the longest 7-inning game in Knight history.
Despite a gut-wrenching 12-11 loss in a game where if it was not for a couple miscues, UCF wins the game. The Knights still leave that game with the same confidence they have against Florida that they had last year when they beat them twice.
Going back to last year, UCF has scored 26 runs against Florida pitching, which was a top 5 pitching staff last year and going into Sunday. To put Sunday into perspective. Florida’s pitching staff had only giving up 11 runs all season in first 15 games. The Knights matched that number in one game against them. Florida could not get Doherty out, who had 3 hits and is 7/10 in her career vs. Florida pitching. Allyse Volpe had 3 hits in the game and help lead the Knights’ comeback from a 7-2 deficit.
The Knights will need to clean up some things on defense, but it was a memorable game which once again was trending on Twitter. Both teams played at a high level. The same cannot be said from the umpire crew in the game, which did not do either staffs any favors, which led to loyal reader Sam Unger asked the following.
Are the umps being ordered to shrink strike zone? UF and UCF gave up 9 walks each. That is crazy considering the high quality pitchers both teams have.— Regnu Mas (@Unger2Unger) February 28, 2022
The answer is no. The umps are not ordered to shrink the strike zone, which is not the first time that question has been asked around the sport. That being said, the home plate umpire in Sunday’s game is notorious for having a small, inconsistent strike zone, which no doubt contributed the pitching issues for both sides which is why I am not concern long term about Knights pitching. Good catch Sam!
Home: UCF is back in the Top 25
UCF returned to the Top 25 on Tuesday as the Knights come in ranked 24th in NFCA poll and 25th in the ESPN/USA Today poll.
Let’s go to the mailbag and address some of the other questions you all have for me:
Woodall. Is she just an innings eater and just hope for breakeven - score as many runs as she gives up?— James Reid (JLR!) (@CostSegAdvisor) February 28, 2022
Or are we hoping for diff pitcher when she settles in at UCF?
Woodall is an arm that can be used very often and in different roles. She can start and also come in relief very easily. She’s a valuable weapon to this staff. It would not surprise me if Woodall ends the season leading the team in appearances and innings pitched.
All credit to Francesca Enea, who is an incredible analyst. I have called 8 games with with Enea on ESPN+ since 2021 and UCF is 6-2, winning four of the most memorable games in program history with walk-off wins versus Florida (2021), Georgia (2022) and Ole Miss (2022) along with a win over Arizona (2021) in Enea’s debut with me, which set the tone. Even Sunday’s game against Florida will likely go down as a memorable loss. Expect dramatic games when Enea in booth.
Loyal reader JP Gilbert asked the following:
“UCF Softball pitcher and non-pitcher Mount Rushmore. Who you got in both?”
Good question. UCF Softball is celebrating 20 years so this is a popular question and is something I may write about later on in the season or discuss on the podcast. UCF will have alumni weekend April 8-10 for Memphis series. So I will get back to you by then.
I agree with James.
On Deck: UCF will host South Carolina and Florida Gulf Coast in a Tournament starting Friday.