For the fourth time this season, the UCF softball team completed a Conference USA series sweep with a 7-5 victory over UTEP Sunday afternoon at Helen of Troy Softball Complex, thanks to three hits, including a three-RBI home run, and three runs scored from Tiffany Lane (Moreno Valley, Calif.).
The win improved the Knights’ record to 33-20 on the season, while also moving their league record to 16-7. With the series sweep, the Black and Gold secured the No. 3 seed heading into the C-USA Championship which begins March 13 in Houston, Texas. Though UCF won all three games, Tulsa snuck past the squad in winning percentage to claim the No. 2 seed, while East Carolina won the regular-season league title and the No. 1 seed in the tournament.
UCF will face No. 6-seed UTEP in the opening round of the C-USA Championship Thursday at 9 p.m. ET at Cougar Softball Stadium.
Marissa Menendez (Tampa, Fla.) added a pair of hits and a walk in the game against UTEP, while Ashleigh Cole (Pace, Fla.) tallied a hit and two RBI.
Cole also earned the win in the circle for the Knights, allowing five runs on 11 hits, while striking out three in her 29th complete-game of the year. The hurler improved her record to a career-best 21-12.
For the third-consecutive contest, Lane scored the first run of the game. The junior led off the game with an infield single, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Natalie Land (Mayo, Fla.) and stole third base. With Lane perched a mere one base from home, Hillary Barrow (Miami, Fla.) tallied RBI number 36 on the season with a perfectly placed blooper over the pitcher’s head to once again give UCF an early lead.
It was Lane again who was responsible for giving the Black and Gold a four-run advantage, as she crushed a 2-2 delivery from UTEP starter Stacie Townsend off the scoreboard in right centerfield with runners on first and second in the top of the second. Mary Helen Tyler (Marianna, Fla.) reached base on a fielding error by UTEP’s first baseman to lead off the frame, before Perez put two runners on with a single up the middle of the infield to set up Lane for the three-run shot.
The Miners cut the Knights’ lead to three runs in the bottom of the frame on a solo home run from senior Ashley Ellis, but UCF took the run back in the top of the third on a RBI single to right field off the bat of Cole.
Two more runs scored in the top of the fourth for the Black and Gold, with one coming courtesy of the one-two punch of Lane and Land. Lane reached safely on her third hit of the contest and Land knocked her around with a double to right centerfield. With two outs, three-straight walks would allow Land to touch home and score the seventh run of the contest and extend UCF’s lead to six runs.
Land finished the game with a double, a RBI, one run scored and a sacrifice hit.
UTEP’s Ellis proved to be a thorn in the Knights’ side in the contest, as she added a two-RBI single to her stat line in the bottom of the fifth to cut UCF’s lead to four.
UTEP kept chipping away at UCF’s lead after posting single runs in both the sixth and seventh innings, but UCF was able to hang on for the win and complete the sweep.
The UCF softball team is set to compete in the Conference USA Championship hosted by Houston on May 13-15. The top eight teams in league standings will participate in the single-elimination tournament, with the winning team earning C-USA’s automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.