After a 6-1 win over the No. 20 South Carolina Gamecocks on Friday night, the UCF Knights saw their season come to an abrupt end Saturday evening with a pair of losses, 5-1 and 10-1, to the No. 3 Florida State Seminoles and South Carolina, respectively, in the Tallahassee NCAA Regional at Seminole Softball Complex.
Breakdowns on defense and lack of timely hitting were big contributors to the two losses. The Knights’ season ended at 40-21 which marks the 3rd straight 40-win season and an AAC Tournament championship.
Maybe a few years ago we would be celebrating this historic season. That is not the case now.
“We’re not satisfied with how we ended,” UCF Head Coach Cindy Ball-Malone said postgame following the season-ending loss to South Carolina. “People tell us ‘great season’ and our goal every year is to reach potential and have no regrets and I don’t think we reached either one of those.”
That is the bar that is set for UCF as they enter the Big 12 conference next season, which is arguably the nation’s top softball conference.
Jada Cody said she looks forward to what they will bring with them to the Big 12.
“Next year, we won’t be the younger team anymore,” said Cody. “We have a lot of juniors this year, so next year it’s going to be personal. We’re going to leave all that we have on the field and take this program to a different level.”
Before we look ahead. Here are my final thoughts on 2023 Knights Softball season.
1st: Sarah Willis Is the Knights’ Ace
The biggest question going into this season was the Knights’ pitching staff, which came in with less than 100 innings pitched into the season. Who would establish themselves?
Sarah Willis established herself as the ace in the second half of the season.
The woman of the hour! Sarah has thrown the seven-inning perfect game in program history! pic.twitter.com/EziNSkEkob— UCF Softball (@UCF_Softball) April 29, 2023
Willis went 19-3 on the season, including 4-1 in the postseason. She also made history, throwing the first-ever 7-inning perfect game in program history against Houston on April 28.
Willis would win the AAC Pitcher of the Year award, joining Shelby Turnier (2015) as the only Knights to win that award and the third Knight to win a conference Pitcher of the Year award (Mackenzie Audas won it in C-USA in 2012).
Willis would also win AAC Tournament MVP, going 3-0 and joining Allison Kime (2008) as the only Knights to go 3-0 in three days in a single elimination tournament.
You know you have arrived as a pitcher when fans stoops to levels of complaining about how long it takes you to throw a pitch. That is what happened in Tallahassee as the FSU fans complained to the umpires as the ‘Noles offense could not hit Willis. All the experiences, good and bad, that Willis, Grace Jewell (who made All-Region) and the rest of the staff went through will benefit them in 2024.
2nd: Aubrey Evans Is UCF’s Doubles Queen
We have a new name atop the single-season doubles list! Aubrey takes sole possession of FIRST place in program history with her 17th double of the season in the top of the first inning!#ChargeOn ⚔️ @_aubreyevans pic.twitter.com/UvQsSKQwcf— UCF Softball (@UCF_Softball) May 20, 2023
Aubrey Evans showed why she was the highest-touted infielder to come to UCF since Natalie Land (2009-2012). Evans finished her freshman season hitting .338, which is tied with Jania Shinhoster for the 3rd-highest batting average for any true freshman in a non-COVID season behind only Denali Schappacher, who hit .340 in 2018, and UCF Hall of Famer Stephanie Best, who hit .347 in 2002.
Evans also set a program record with 18 doubles while playing 2B, 3B, and even catching a little bit.
SS: Jasmine Williams Had Historic Defensive Year at SS
While Williams got national attention for #MomBombs, she was quietly putting up a historic defensive year, setting the program record for any shortstop by being involved in turning 19 double plays. Williams’ fielding pct of .958 is 2nd-best ever behind only Brittany Solis's .977 in 2017. Williams's 9 errors are the 4th-fewest ever behind only Erin Emanuel (7 in 2019, 8 in 2018) and Solis (4 in 2017).
3rd: Chloe Evans Had a Historic Season
Chloe Evans had arguably the greatest season any Knight outfielder has ever had. Here is the breakdown:
- 49 RBIs is 4th most ever at UCF in a season, behind only Best (60 in 2005 and 66 in 2003), and Cody (75 in 2022)
- 8 triples are tied for most in a season at UCF, tying Tiffany Lane's mark from 2009
- 16 Doubles are tied for 2nd-most ever by a Knight behind only Aubrey’s 18
- .621 slugging pct is 6th-highest in program history, with only Best (2002-2005), and Cody (2022) having better seasons. Chloe is only the 5th Knight to slug .600.
- UCF record 17 game hitting streak
- 116 total bases is 6th-most in a single season at UCF
You want more Chloe highlights? You got more Chloe highlights https://t.co/fgUQCY2qlV— UCF Softball (@UCF_Softball) May 20, 2023
- 7 assists set a program record for most assists by OF in a season, breaking Vanessa Perez's record of 6 which she did twice (2009, 2011).
Home: UCF Wins 40 games for the Third Straight Season
For the first time in program history, UCF won at least 40 games in three straight seasons. The 40th win came on Friday night against South Carolina, 6-1.
The game aired on ESPN2 in primetime and was the most-watched Friday regional game with 250,000 viewers, making it the 2nd most-watched UCF regional game ever behind only UCF's dramatic 11-inning win over Michigan in last year’s Orlando Regional (356,000) and 4th-most ever regional or super regional telecast.
On Deck: Big 12
UCF ended a great run in The American by winning the AAC Tournament in Tampa, becoming the first Knights team to go back-to-back.
In nine completed seasons, UCF won:
- Three regular season titles (2014-2015, 2022)
- Three Tournament titles (2015, 2022, 2023)
- Six NCAA Tournament appearances (2014-2016, 2021-2023)
- Five regional finals appearances
- One regional title as a host and national seed in 2022, advancing to the program’s first Super Regional.
Thanks for the memories, AAC. It was an historic era for the program. Now it is on to a new era.
See you in the Big 12.