Photo Courtesy of AAC
The highly anticipated pitching battle between national strikeout leaders UCF (30-13, 7-2 American) and USF (30-13, 4-5 American) met all expectations, with the Knights able to get the better of their in-state rivals and take the series with two victories.
Junior Mackenzie Audas rose to the occasion in both of the Knights’ wins, which came by a 3-1 margin in the second game on Saturday and 2-1 score on Sunday. In the Knights’ first win, she tossed a complete game, allowing only three hits while fanning seven. Her offensive support came in part from Kalyn Cenal, who sent out a two-run homer to put UCF up 3-0 in the third inning, with USF unable to make up the difference. Sunday’s matchup for the series featured another clutch performance from Audas, who notched her second complete game in as many days, holding the Bulls scoreless through six innings. The UCF lineup was then able to produce in the top of the seven thanks to a double from Mariah Garcia.
Despite falling in the series, USF’s ace Sara Nevins was outstanding as she continued her record-setting senior campaign. She and the Bulls started off the series with a bang, as Nevins struck out 10 and walked only one in her complete game performance to earn her third no-hitter of the season and seventh of her career. In addition, Nevins picked up her 1,000 strikeout in the 4-0 victory, becoming the first in USF history and only the fifth active pitcher nationally to reach that career mark.
The nation’s top two staffs for strikeouts recorded a total of 38 Ks on the series (22 to the Bulls, 16 to the Knights). Nevins added 17 to her total to rise to 206 on the season, which leads The American. UCF’s Shelby Turnier sits second with 173 and Audas third with 155.
Houston (26-12, 11-1 American) saw their conference record blemished for the first time this season, as the Cougars fell in the final game of their series at Memphis (18-24, 3-8 American) on the Tigers’ final at-bat. The heroics went to Brittany Vaughn, who scored Memphis’ winning run on an error from the Cougars. Houston took the series, however, winning both games in Saturday’s doubleheader. The first win on Saturday was a milestone for the program: the 500th win for the Cougar softball program and also for head coach Kyla Holas. Number 500 came in an 11-inning marathon, as the Cougars ignited for seven runs and elevate to a 12-5 win in the final frame. Haley Outon recorded her second multi-home run game in a week with a solo shot in the second and again in the seventh. The Cougars also tied for the most hits in a game for any conference team this season, connecting for 18.
Temple (13-19, 3-6 American) earned two important home conference wins, taking the series with Rutgers (19-15, 3-6 American) thanks to the Owls’ bats catching fire. The Scarlet Knights took the first game on Saturday 2-0, thanks to 10 hits and a complete game effort from junior Alyssa Landrith. Temple bounced back quickly, however, taking advantage of three home runs to put up a 14-6 run-rule victory. Sarah Prezioso was responsible for a two-run shot in the game, with Annie Marcopolus and Kelsey Dominik also going yard. Rutgers put up three homers of their own in the contest, but couldn’t get the run support to knock off the Owls.
Sunday’s game saw more power-hitting from Temple, with Prezioso sending another ball out for a solo shot, and sealed the 5-3 win with a two-run home run from freshman catcher Kaylyn Zierke, the first of her career.
Louisville (27-15, 8-4 American)’s winning streak climbed to seven games over the weekend, as the Cardinals took all three from UConn (9-29, 2-9 American). Louisville’s offense continued to run on all cylinders, outscoring the Huskies 24-2 through three games and again jumping to the top of The American rankings in team batting average (.303), slugging percentage (.461), hits (341) and RBIs (206). Maryssa Becker’s hot streak in the circle continued, as she earned the first and third wins on the series to rise to 12-3 overall. In conference play, Becker is second behind only Nevins with 36 strikeouts.
“Before the game I knew I needed seven more [strikeouts], but I tried not to think about it. I don’t really think about it but I guess it’s a good thing to have happen.” –USF senior pitcher Sara Nevins on reaching 1,000 career strikeouts, only the fifth active pitcher in the nation to do so
“It’s a huge win. Any wins against tough teams are huge wins, whether home or away. It just makes it even sweeter to beat them at their own field. [Sara] Nevins is a great pitcher. Everyone knows she is, and we were really preparing for a close ballgame like what we had today. The intensity was really high, and it was a really fun game to pitch.” –UCF junior pitcher Mackenzie Audas on series win at USF
Nonconference, close-to-home opponents will be the pattern for teams during the week, with conference play returning on Friday and Saturday this week rather than Saturday and Sunday due to the Easter holiday. The schedule doesn’t look to get any easier for UCF, as they welcome the hot bats of Louisville to Orlando. USF and Houston will also square off in what is sure to be a close matchup in Texas. Wrapping up the schedule will be Memphis at Rutgers and Temple at UConn.