Natalie Land’s home run and outstanding game-ending defensive play powered the UCF softball team to a 4-3 win over East Carolina on Sunday and its first-ever sweep of the Pirates.
With the Knights (25-10, 6-3 in Conference USA) clinging to a 4-3 lead, the Pirates (15-20, 3-6) had runners on second and third in the seventh inning with two outs. Pinch hitter Rebecca Lee hit a sharp ground ball deep into the hole at shortstop. Land moved to her right, made a diving, backhanded stop and threw to first to beat Lee by a half-step. The play prevented two Pirates runs from scoring, and Land’s teammates mobbed her in the infield.
UCF will travel to UTEP for a Conference USA doubleheader beginning at 4 p.m. Friday and a single game at 1 pm. on Saturday. The series will feature the Knights’ top ranked conference pitching staff against a Miners’ offense that leads the conference with 44 home runs in 33 games.
The Black and Gold jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning Sunday. With a runner on third base, junior Lauren Aldridge pinch-ran at first after a Farrah Sullivan single. Aldridge then took off for second on the first pitch, and an errant throw into center field allowed the Knights to take a 1-0 lead.
Later in the inning, junior Alena Murgatroyd knocked in Aldridge from third with an RBI single into center. Murgatroyd, wearing a protective mask as she recovers from a broken nose, went 4-for-8 with a walk, a stolen base and three RBI in the series.
Land hit a two-out solo home run to deep left field in the sixth inning to give the Knights a 4-1 advantage. That run would prove to be the difference, as ECU scored twice in the top of the seventh before Land’s stellar defensive play ended the game.
Senior Ali Schmidt started for the second time in the series and earned her second win in as many days. Schmidt worked herself in and out of jams all afternoon as she scattered nine hits and three walks over 6 2/3 innings. She benefited from picking up early outs, as most of the Pirates’ hits came with two outs.
The sweep concluded a busy week for the Knights, who also defeated North Florida 3-0 on Wednesday. Mackenzie Audas, Alex Hartshorn, Blaire Kelley, Farrah Sullivan and 2011 graduate Abby McClain were announced as recipients of the Conference USA Commissioner’s Academic Medal, which honors student-athletes who have posted cumulative GPAs of at least 3.75.
Upcoming home games include a sold-out April 11 contest against in-state rival Florida. Season tickets are now $25 and are available online at UCFAthletics.com and Ticketmaster.com or by calling the UCF Athletics Ticket Office at (407) 823-1000.