For the first time in program history, #20 UCF Knights Softball played on the final weekend of the regular season with a conference title on the line. After dropping the first game of the series on Friday night, the Knights won the last two games, including Sunday’s 9-5 win at Wichita State, to clinch the program’s 3rd American Athletic Conference regular-season championship and earn the top seed at the AAC Tournament next week.
The Knights scored 5 runs in the 6th inning on Sunday to break the game open to lead 9-2 and never looked back.
Let’s go around the bases to recap this historic weekend.
1st: Justine Molina Changed the Game with a Memorable HR
In the top of the 4th, with two out and UCF trailing 2-1, Molina came to the plate. Up until this point in the game, the Shockers had the edge. But one swing changed all that.
Molina’s 3-run homer, her third of the year, gave UCF a 4-2 lead and changed the momentum of the game in favor of the Knights.
Molina’s homer will go down as one of most memorable and surprising, considering she is not a power hitter and had only hit two career homers as a Knight entering this season. It will go up there with Tiffany Lane’s 2-run homer in the top of the 6th inning of the 2008 C-USA Championship game at No. 9 Houston off All-American Angel Shamblin. Lane was a freshman who only hit 2 homers that year.
Like Lane, Justene Molina is an infielder from California. She’s had a great month of May as she ended the Tulsa series with a walk-off double to win on Senior Day, and now, the biggest homer of her career.
2nd: Gianna Mancha Wins 2nd Conference Title
On May 12, 2018, Gianna Mancha was a freshman at Boise State, playing for then-Broncos Head Coach Cindy Ball-Malone. Mancha would get the win against New Mexico and clinch Boise State’s Mountain West Championship.
Fast forward to Sunday, almost four years to the day, and Mancha once again got the win, going 5 innings to get the program’s 5th overall conference title on the 20th anniversary year of the program, which is fitting since Mancha’s win was her 20th.
3rd: Kama Woodall’s Legacy Grows
None of this happens if it was not for Kama Woodall who bounced back after a rough outing in relief on Friday night with a spectacular start on Saturday, holding the #2 scoring offense in college softball to 1 run in 8 innings pitched while striking out a career-high 8 batters to get the win and even the series as the Knights won 3-1.
It will go down as one of the greatest starts any Knight has ever had considering the stakes in the game.
The Knights got a clutch 2 RBI hit by Kennedy Searcy in the top of the 8th, which would be the game-winner.
UCF got the scoring going early in the game on a solo homer by Shannon Doherty.
On Sunday, Woodall came in relief and got the last six outs of the game. I called Woodall the Mike Hughes of Softball, because just like he made an incredible impact in his one year as a Knight helping lead UCF Football to the AAC championship and an undefeated 2017 season, Softball is not celebrating a conference title without the impact of Woodall.
Home: Ashleigh Griffin Is Clutch
Ashleigh Griffin has been clutch herself over the last couple of months and that was no different on Sunday as Griffin had a bases-loaded clearing double in the 6th that broke the game open.
I mentioned Lane's earlier impact as a freshman in 2008. Griffin has made a similar impact, being the most improved player since March. Griffin went 2 for 3 in the game with the 3 runs batted in and for the season has driven in 31 runs which is 3rd most on the team behind Doherty’s 33 and Jada Cody who is up to 64 after the weekend driving in a couple runs in the series to be within 2 of tieing Stephanie Best school record of 66 in 2003.
On Deck: The American Softball Championship Tournament in Greenville
UCF is the top seed and gets a bye into the semi-finals. They will take on the winner of Houston vs. Tulsa on Friday at 1 pm. The AAC Championship game will be at 11 a.m. on Saturday on ESPN2. The Knights will look to do what the 2015 team did and win the double with the regular season title and conference tournament title. UCF is also in the mix to host as they are 16th in RPI entering the final week before Selection Sunday which will be at 7 p.m. Eastern on ESPN2.