For the first time in its 20-year history, the UCF Softball team advances to an NCAA Super-regional.
The Knights (49-12, 16-2 AAC) accomplished this feat at the UCF Softball Complex on Sunday afternoon by once again defeating Michigan, 9-4.
⚔ ORLANDO REGIONAL CHAMPS! ⚔#ChargeOn ⚔ #TeamXXI pic.twitter.com/7e8AIt6veV— UCF Softball (@UCF_Softball) May 22, 2022
The achievement was marked by not only the team rushing the circle in celebration, but also two decades’ worth of alumni rushing the field to join them. It was not until then that the gravity of what this team accomplished truly hit head coach Cindy Ball-Malone.
“You say that you play for the past, the present, and the future, but to see it all come together, it’s bigger than anything,” Ball-Malone said.
For the past. The present. The future.— UCF Softball (@UCF_Softball) May 23, 2022
WE’RE GOING TO SUPERS! pic.twitter.com/0Y6cmHWu6v
Amidst the celebration, senior starting pitcher Gianna Mancha was the first to receive the Gatorade shower. She followed Ball-Malone, also known as “Coach Bear,” to UCF from Boise State. The Fresno, California native pitched 5.1 innings, allowing three runs on five hits and four walks while striking out five batters.
“It’s super emotional,” Mancha said. “Just to be here with this team and Coach Bear [Ball-Malone], it’s a blessing.”
She was relieved by redshirt senior Kama Woodall who was coming off of an 11-inning complete game against the Wolverines on Saturday. She pitched the final 1.2 innings allowing only one run on two hits and a strikeout.
“I think me and [Mancha], and the whole pitching staff, have a lot of trust and a lot of belief in each other and stick to our plans,” Woodall said. “When you have a defense, an offense, and a staff behind you like we do, you can go out there and be fearless and leave it all out there, and know that someone’s there to back you up every time.”
Both pitchers also received help in the form of three bases-loaded walks by the Wolverines in the 1st inning, which gave the Knights a 3-0 lead from the jump.
Building on that initial lead, freshman designated player and catcher Ashleigh Griffin led the team offensively with three RBIs thanks to a solo home run, an RBI single, and an RBI sacrifice fly.
“I wasn’t going to let anything take me down,” Griffin said of her homer. “I was going up there, gonna do what I do best, and catch a barrel. It was just a great feeling to get that for my team.”
Ash got all of that one! #ChargeOn— UCF Softball (@UCF_Softball) May 22, 2022
: ESPN+ (https://t.co/p8c9rfYEfF) pic.twitter.com/Juakcrnet9
Now with their first regional win in program history secured, the Knights now have to travel to Norman, Oklahoma for their super-regional bout with No. 1-seed Oklahoma (52-2, 17-1 Big 12) in a best of three series. Only Texas and Oklahoma State have beaten the Sooners this season and Ball-Malone said they were a “powerhouse.”
“I think it’s exciting,” Mancha said. “I mean, everyone wants to play ‘em. So, now’s our chance.”
Game 1 is slated for 4:30 p.m. on Friday on ESPN2 with Game 2 scheduled for the following day at 2 p.m. on ESPN.
To hear more about Eric and Bryson’s thoughts on the Orlando Regional, check out this Knight Shift episode:
ELO’s Around The Bases Regional Edition
1st - It Was Mayhem At The Plex All Weekend
SEE YOU IN THE SUPERS‼️ #ChargeOn pic.twitter.com/zbg5OsHhYv— UCF Knights (@UCFKnights) May 22, 2022
UCF got to host a regional for the first time and saw up close why “Mayhem” is a term used for NCAA Softball Tournament like “March Madness” is used for Basketball. KnightNation and Mayhem is a perfect marriage. 20 years in the making after the program played its first game ever. They win their first regional, advance to 1st super-regional, and gain many fans in the process. UCF Softball ranked 22nd in attendance in 2022. So no one should have been surprised that the regional sold out fast and had an incredible atmosphere.
UCF Fans love outdoor events. UCF Softball always had the most upside for an interest outside of football. The pace of softball is faster than Baseball. Softball brings drama and suspense that Women's Basketball does not. Softball is not in the shadow of football in the spring as Soccer and Volleyball are in the fall. UCF Softball was the dominant local UCF story during the last few weeks. And the Knights delivered success which fans always like.
Championship Sunday #PlexFlex pic.twitter.com/yuq4QZg0vg— UCF Knights (@UCFKnights) May 22, 2022
I always compare softball to football from a intensity and passion that each sport brings with rabid fan bases. UCF is a Football School and 2022 cemented UCF as a Softball school as well.
2nd- 2022 UCF Softball Played for Past UCF Softball Teams
One big #UCFamily ❤️ pic.twitter.com/XQkj19vRTP— UCF Softball (@UCF_Softball) May 23, 2022
Many UCF Softball alums were in attendance throughout the weekend and especially on Sunday. Each UCF era was represented from the ASUN era to the CUSA era to the 2015 UCF team that got snubbed from hosting. It was fitting the alums got to celebrate and enjoy this moment in person as well as watching at home.
3rd- Where Does This Weekend rank in UCF Athletics History?
4 hours and 15 minutes later, it was all worth it #ChargeOn pic.twitter.com/7cXZsRFaSy— UCF Softball (@UCF_Softball) May 21, 2022
When I think of significant landmark moments in UCF Athletic History on campus, they include UCF Football hosting ESPN’s College Gameday in 2018, opening Bounce House vs Texas in 2007, and beating USF and Memphis in 2017 to become Champions of the American Conference. Where on the list does Softball hosting and winning regional this weekend belong? You can rank it among yourselves.
The Michigan win on Saturday goes down as the most significant home win in UCF Softball history beating the Wolverines 3-2 in a classic 11-inning 4-hour-plus game that aired on ESPN2. I compared the event to the UCF Men Basketball facing Duke in the round of 32 if the tip-in went in for the win this time.
Home - 2022 UCF Softball Impact Will Be Long Lasting On and Off Field
HISTORY AT THE PLEX!#ChargeOn ⚔ #TeamXXI pic.twitter.com/0gaflKF6ID— UCF Softball (@UCF_Softball) May 22, 2022
The 2022 UCF Softball team's success will likely lead to future renovations to the complex —which it’s real clear to everyone after this weekend how necessary they are. It will change the expectations moving forward in the future as they have football-like expectations every year. That may lead to some unrealistic expectations occasionally, but it also shows more people care and I welcome it!