CLEARWATER, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) – The UCF softball team showed great resiliency Saturday as they split a pair of games at the NFCA Lead-Off Classic in Clearwater, Fla. Just hours after the Knights (8-7) dropped a heartbreaker to DePaul, 5-3, in game one, the offense came through late as they topped Southern Illinois, 5-2, in their second contest at the Eddie C. Moore Softball Complex.
The Knights were looking to exact some revenge on DePaul after being run-ruled by the Blue Demons on Feb. 8 in Las Vegas. UCF looked to be on the way to doing just that before they gave up a 3-2 lead by surrendering three runs in the top of the seventh. After a sixth-inning collision took starting second baseman Kahley Novak out of the game, some miscommunication and swirling winds contributed to a pair of balls finding spots between deep second and shallow right field for singles. Later in the inning, DePaul came up with a two-run single and a sacrifice fly to give them the winning margin.
Sophomore Mackenzie Audas was tagged with the loss after allowing four earned runs in seven innings of work. Audas walked three (one intentional) and struck out three on the afternoon. The Knights brought the tying run to the plate three times in the bottom half of the seventh to try and pick Audas up, but were unable to make the rally.
Trailing 2-0, the Knights tied the game in the third on a two-run single by sophomore Farrah Sullivan. The Black and Gold’s bench also stepped up in the bottom of the sixth. After freshman Shelby Turnier singled, fellow freshman Taylor Wagner pinch ran and stole second. With Wagner in scoring position, head coach Renee Luers-Gillispie tabbed freshman Jasmine Acevedo to pinch hit and the Largo native came through with a clutch RBI single to right-center to give the Knights their only lead of the contest.
The Knights struck first as they scored a pair in the top of the third after senior Danielle Brewer led off the frame with a walk. Senior Lauren Aldridge pinch ran and took second, making her a perfect 6-for-6 on steals for the season. Aldridge is now UCF’s all-time leader in stolen base percentage as she is 14-for-14 in her career. Aldridge later scored on an RBI single by sophomore Hayley Barrow. UCF continued to be aggressive on the bases as Barrow swiped second to get into scoring position and came around to score on a two-out RBI single by freshman Kalyn Cenal. UCF’s team speed is evident as they are now 33-for-37 in steals on the season.
Freshman Shelby Turnier earned her second win of the weekend and fourth-consecutive victory after going the full seven innings and scattering nine hits and two runs while striking out five. After a tough 0-2 start, Turnier has allowed just 19 hits and five runs in her last 27 innings pitched to lower her ERA from 11.67 to 3.18.
The Black and Gold added three big insurance runs that proved to be the difference in the top of the seventh. Sophomore Maddy Schroeder singled and stole second to get the inning started. After a walk by Brewer and a single by freshman Brittanne Gasser loaded the bases, Acevedo plated a pair with a big two-run double into the gap in right-center. Barrow followed with a sacrifice fly to right that scored Gasser and gave the Knights their final advantage.
The Knights return to action Sunday as the NFCA Lead-Off Classic concludes on its final day with UCF taking on Massachusetts at 12:30 p.m.