The Knights (47-12, 16-2 AAC) propelled themselves to victory over the Wildcats (32-23, 16-7 Big East) with historical postseason performances from senior starting pitcher Gianna Mancha in the circle and sophomore catcher Jada Cody in the batter’s box.
“They lead and we follow,” head coach Cindy Ball-Malone said. “We always feel confident with No. 8 [Mancha] in the circle and Jada just made a statement early in the game and I felt like we just took a deep breath and played at The Plex like we normally do.”
Cody’s early-game statement came in the form of a three-run home run in the first inning. The hit increased her season RBI total to 72, making her the first player in program history to hit over 70 RBIs in one season.
She followed it up with another home run in her next at-bat the following inning. This time it was a two-run shot that got her to 74 RBIs on the season. With this hit, Cody became the first player in program history to hit multiple home runs in an NCAA Tournament game and the first in program history since Hillary Barrow in 2010 to hit five RBIs in an NCAA Tournament game.
Cody said after the game that she felt like she had “all of it” on the pitch.
“I was just in my swing,” Cody said. “I’m just letting the pitch come to me.”
Pitches were also coming Cody’s way as she sat behind the plate, serving as the catcher for Mancha.
Pitching her 15th complete game of the season, Mancha allowed only four Wildcats to reach base, three with a hit and one on a walk. She also struck out nine batters, which ties a program postseason record set by Mackenzie Audas back in 2012.
“It was awesome to have defense behind me and offense hitting, Jada obviously going up in the first inning was helpful, just seeing the girls behind me and trusting my stuff,” Mancha said.
However, despite the limited base runners, there were two times when Villanova got a couple of runners on base. One such occasion was in the fourth inning when Mancha had runners on second and third base with one out. She later said that she trusted her stuff and, with the knowledge that she could work with her defense behind her, proceeded to strike out the next two batters and retire the side.
“The strikeouts will come here and there, but I really just pride myself on working my D behind me and I know they got me,” Mancha said.
A landmark day for @ggiannaaa_— UCF Softball (@UCF_Softball) May 20, 2022
After tossing a complete game shutout in today's regional opener, she's been selected as the 5th overall pick in @wprofastpitch draft by the @SmashIt_Vipers! ⚔ #ChargeOn pic.twitter.com/I7PernZFaB
In the latter half of that inning, the Knights put the icing on the cake offensively with an RBI double by sophomore third baseman Kennedy Searcy. The hit brought home junior left fielder Allyse Volpe for her third run of the game, the most runs scored by any player in program postseason history. Friday’s game was Volpe’s first in-game action since exiting the American Athletic Conference Tournament championship game against USF with a right leg injury.
“It’s great to have her back in the lineup,” Ball-Malone said. “Ever since the Houston series, she’s really just done her thing and she’s a spark plug for our offense.”
With the victory over the Wildcats, the Knights are now set for a rematch with Michigan, slated for 11 a.m. on Saturday. The game will be shown on ESPN2.
Both teams met during the St. Pete/Clearwater Elite Invitational back on Feb. 18, with the Wolverines getting the win, 6-0.
However, Ball-Malone said that she thinks Michigan will see a different and more seasoned team than the one from three months ago.
“I think there were a lot of defining moments for us in that Michigan game,” Mancha said. “I think we’re just excited to get back on the field and show them what we can do now.”